Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Home Ick

Tell me: does Home Ec still exist ? In high schools ? If it does, I bet it's changed since the time when, week after week, we made baking powder biscuits and white sauce. That's all we made, I swear. Week after week. Mountains of biscuits, gallons of white sauce. And then, for a break, centerpieces. For the table upon which we would serve our baking powder biscuits with white sauce. Then we made more biscuits and white sauce.

I was thinking about Home Ec today as I did some enforced Home Ec. My study is being ravaged by the workmen who have been tediously overhauling our old house's ancient, Frankensteined heating system. Off the grid, I had no excuse to further delay months worth of button-sewing and mending. As I sat at the kitchen table stitching I thought of my earliest experience of Home Ec: sewing class, John Breen Elementary School, Lawrence, Massachusetts, third or fourth grade, circa 1959.

We -- a bevy of little girls -- were sitting around a wooden table at the side of the auditorium. Breen was an old building even 50 years ago; I am remembering tall widows, and, despite that, the room is shadowy, perhaps just with the shadows of time. Our first project was to make a sewing bag. We were sent home and instructed to obtain gingham out of which to make this. My mother and I dutifully went to the local department store, and I chose blue.

Sewing, we learned, was a methodical, stepwise process. One did not simply rush in, willy nilly, needles flashing. One cut, then pinned, then basted, then, finally, backstitched. Later, we learned how to hem. We learned that three, not two or four, tiny superimposed stitches terminated a row of sewing, although I've always mistrusted this advice and and added an extra three or four throws for good measure, always feeling a frisson of disloyalty to the ancient teaching. These were useful skills to acquire -- more useful than the physics or calculus I would later learn. Oh, if only I had had the prescience to take typing !

One day's lesson has always remained with me. It was in backstitching, and the teacher was circling the table behind us, clucking in disapproval.

Small stitches, girls ! she chided. She looked at my work. Those stiches are so big they look like basting ! she hissed. Look at Nazarie's work ! Like a sewing machine ! She held up a square of gingham and, chastened, we looked at the tiny, neat row of stitches. Nazarie was from Portugal. I was two generations into our family's American sojourn, and clearly had devolved from the Old Country standards. My Lithuanian Bubbi had and knew how to use a darning egg, and kept a clump of beeswax in her sewing kit. I rest my case.

I had devolved, and would yet further devolve.

In high school, in addition to studying biscuits and white sauce, we also had sewing classes. With sewing machines this time, and patterns. Our first project was to make an an apron, to protect our clothing from driblets of white sauce and biscuit dough. By now, 1967 or so, a glimmer of rebellion had ignited within me, whether feminist or simply adolescent, I can't say. The assignment was a report on fabric types, to be illustrated by swatches. This had, for some reason, so annoyed me that I had included a page -- appropriately illustrated -- labeled "Old Tissue." The teacher saw no humor in this.

Despite my brief rebellion, here I was, decades later, sewing on buttons and stitching up holes. It wasn't my favorite thing, but someone has to do it. In fact, I realized, that being in Altar Guild has plunged me straight into Home Ec's heart of lightness. DK shakes his head in disbelief as I iron corporals, lavabo towels and purificators. This was not the iron-averse woman he married, although, ever tolerant, he bought me a new ironing board.

Last Saturday two of us from the Guild were setting up for Mass. After we once again admired the team's recent handiwork -- wall altar covered with enormous poinsettias -- my eye was drawn to the freestanding altar, a beautiful piece of work constructed and donated by a parishioner. Not so much to the altar, but to that which was upon it.

But first a backstory.

About six months ago another parishioner had made a frontal for the altar. It's reversible -- one side is ivory colored silk with an appliqued embroidered gold cross in the center. The other side is a checkerboard of bright liturgical colors -- blood red, royal purple, forest green -- covered over with a flock of appliqued-on small white crosses. The whole thing is kept on the altar by a dull, flimsy muslin contraption, like a fitted sheet without the fitting. So, fine: with some rehemming and stitching we were able to get rid of the velcro and get the thing to sit relatively quietly on the altar beneath the fair linen. The fair linen that, uncanonically, does not cover the whole altar top.

A few weeks ago Rev. S. emailed me. There had been a winespill. On the altar. On the fair linen and the muslin, not the frontal itself, thanks be to God. I swaggered about a little -- that would be the sin of pride, or hubris, if you will -- pleased to have been summoned at this moment of laundry crisis. Of course I knew next to nothing about stains. There had been that scorch mark that I successfully removed with peroxide, a towel and my iron. Google was indeed my friend. But winestains on the muslin of the silk frontal ! I would have to spot clean it. I turned to Nurse P., my office mate, with mounting anxiety. They hadn't covered stuff like this in Home Ec. What to do ?

Oxy-Clean, she replied, as if I had asked her the first and easiest question in the catechism.

Oxy-Clean ?

I nodded as if I knew what she was talking about, and scribbled it down on a post-it. I am not up on domestic chemicals. I usually skip that aisle in the grocery. I had made a foray into it at the beginning of my Altar Guild days, for the can of spray starch that I later learned was a huge no-no for liturgical linens. By then I had developed a minor addiction to spray starch. I would have to return to that aisle for this "Oxy-Clean" stuff, whatever it was, solid, liquid, gas, who knew.

Well, this being America, it was available in several flavors of each. Was I the only woman in America that did not know about and own several bottles of this stuff ?

So I bought my chemicals and retrieved the stained linens. I would start with the fair linen. It was a small stain, semicircular, right near the edge. I laid out a towel, placed the linen on it, and squirted on the "Oxy-Clean." My God ! It worked. I watched the stain lighten before my eyes. It was a laundry miracle ! I was a genius ! I swaggered about the basement. Why hadn't they told me about "Oxy-Clean !" Think of the needless decades of louche stains that I and my family had borne !

Emboldened by success, I spread the frontal on the towel. There it was: a little, pink semicircular stain in the muslin a few inches in from the silk. Piece of cake ! I was a stain expert. Soon Heloise would be asking ME for hints ! I squirted away and went upstairs to start dinner. I would give Oxy a chance to do it's Cleaning miracle.

Could I have imagined the scene of horror that awaited me in my basement when I returned 20 minutes later ?

Home Ec may have left me ill prepared for Altar Guild, but Physics hadn't. Two words:

Capillary action.

Capillary action had wicked the oeniferous "Oxy-Clean" down the muslin into the frontal itself, which, as you will recall, consists of an ivory silk recto, and a partly blood-red, non-colorfast verso. Which, wet, had happily bled through the silk in a fat tongue of pink, gleefully mocking my hubris.

Hours later, after a chastened frenzy of further chemistry (more Oxy-Clean, then a 1:1 solution of Dawn Detergent and H202) and of blotting, unstitching, restitching and ironing, all had been put to almost right. There remained the merest hint of watermark on the silk, pinkish in the right light. I emailed the priest my Mea Culpa.

So let's just say I am sensitive to matters of that which lies upon the freestanding altar. That's why my eye was immediately drawn to it last Saturday -- to the oblong of fair linen on the side extending beyond the protective covering.

It was wrinkled. Hideously wrinkled, in fact. I pulled off the covering and gazed in horror at the welter of peaks and valleys, troughs and countertroughs on that which should be -- and had been at last notice -- perfectly flat.

AND (will horrors never cease) it was pink. Completely pink, as if it had gone round in a hot wash with someone's new Christmas sweatshirt. A subtle pink, mind you, but pink. My Altar Guild mate agreed. Wrinkled and pink.

Poor, poor fair linen ! I gazed at the neat hand stitching of the hem and mitered corners, tiny stitches that might have been placed by Nazarie's Portuguese great grandmother. I began to channel my third grade sewing teacher. I could feel a self-righteous, ectoplasmic outrage rising from my toes venting upward through the top of my head.

Well, obviously something had happened and someone had tried to make it right. Sound familiar ? I stuffed the Home Ectoplasm back into her bottle and got on with matters. Google was my friend, my new non-judgmental remedial Home Ec teacher. Home Ec as a second language, as it were. Nevermind that all this domestic stuff was making me feel as if I were wearing drag. I was the director of the Altar Guild, by God, as odd as that might seem, and there was work to be done.

Friday, December 26, 2008


It was my first time in the woods in weeks. The day was calm, almost mild, and bright. Pretty good photography weather, even though the snow would make exposures tricky. A few clouds had congealed over the west horizon. The recent piles of snow had shrunk, but the world was still mostly white and, as I expected, the parking lot at Drumlin Farm was nearly empty. A young couple was extracting a stroller and a bundled-up infant from an SUV. I growled under my breath and plunged down the trail behind the visitor's center as if I were fleeing -- no, there was no as if about it. I was fleeing. Fleeing everything and everyone. It was as if the world had become one big hellhound that was ravenous and hot on my trail.

This was not an unfamiliar mindset, this high noli me tangere mode. I caught myself using the word unmolested. This was not just a positive movement toward and into solitude, it was a pushing away, a rejection of anyone and anything that could have any claim whatsoever on me. Why, I was even growling at strangers !

As we drove to Christmas Eve dinner the other day we listened to a Barbara Streisand album. We had brought along our traditional driving-to-Methuen Christmas piece, Messaien's Vingt Regards Sur L'Enfant Jesus, but DK, in charge of music, wanted to start with Barbara. I hadn't listened to her since high school -- and there it all was, her lovely expressive voice, the gooey, overwrought and schlocky arrangements, crescendoing strings and insane harp arpeggios. And there, of course, was her famous tune, "People."


People who need people.

Are the luckiest people in the world.

I turned to DK. The lyrics had always annoyed me. Now they were really annoying me. Really, really, really annoying me. I began to rant.

Now what in the world does that mean. "People who need people." Does it mean those people who are always creepily announcing that they are a "people person" ? Or just your average gregarious guy staggering around with a cellphone glued to his ear because he can't stand being alone for a second ? Doesn't "people who need people" describe just about everybody ? It doesn't make sense -- unless the song is somehow alluding to the UN - lucky people who don't "need people" -- but they could well consider themselves the lucky ones ! Except when the world chucks armloads of yammering people persons at them.

I glowered. We zipped past the Mall. It was in the last throes of the feeding frenzy that, once again, I had managed to completely avoid; we zipped past my favorite two high tech companies, so fortuitously juxtaposed -- Oracle and SAP -- and I had the fleeting thought that they were they offering a commentary on my spiritual life. No doubt about it, I was channeling Ted Kaczynski. And not in a good way.

So it was with enormous relief that I found myself alone in the woods with my camera. For the first few minutes I found myself glancing over my shoulder, just to make sure I was truly alone. Finally, I relaxed. As I walked, and looked around me, I felt my head clearing. The path was snow-covered, but easily negotiable. For the first time in weeks the snarky little narrator in my head shut up. Dropped to the floor of my brainpan out of sheer exhaustion, no doubt.

I thought of Simone Weil's observation -- that the imagination continuously fills up all the fissures through which grace might otherwise pass. All that head chatter, good and bad but mostly bad, dissolved in the simple act of looking. Silence flooded in, followed by the thought that my camera would fail -- the autofocus had been acting strangely hinky of late -- and my eyes themselves would also inevitably fail, but those thoughts dissipated like breath in the cold air. All was well, and all, even failing, would be well.

Beyond the bird sanctuary walls, I could feel my life untransmogrify. I stood in the snow, brittle as a winter weed. The wind rose; I rattled. Could I have finally learned how to pray ? As in Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth thy praise ?

A phrase from last week's Tuesday Eucharist, a reading from Thomas Merton, had nearly knocked me out of my chair: God's infinitely disinterested love. When everything quiets down, that's what's left: the disinterested gaze that does not lead to grasping or pushing away, the gaze that transcends need, the gaze that is pure letting be, and pure adoration.

I am I thought the luckiest person in the world.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Peace On Earth And Good Will Toward Heterosexual Men. Period.

I read in the Globe this morning about how Pope Benedict is interested in rehabilitating Galileo, tried and punished by the Catholic Church for heresy for propounding scientific views.

"Pope Benedict XVI is ardently convinced of the congruence of faith and reason, and he is concerned, especially in the present circumstances, of giving reason its due place in the whole scheme of things," said Jesuit historian Rev. John Padberg.

Had someone sent the Pope an Episcopalian Christmas present, a trademark three-legged stool of scripture, reason and tradition ? Cushioned in red, perhaps, to match his own trademark leather loafers ?

Just a few days ago, the Pope said that the earth

is the gift of our Creator, with certain intrinsic rules that offer us an orientation we must respect as administrators of creation. … [The church] must defend not only the earth, water and air as gifts of creation that belong to all. It must also defend the human person against its own destruction. What’s needed is something like a ‘human ecology,’ understood in the right sense. It’s not simply an outdated metaphysics if the church speaks of the nature of the human person as man and woman, and asks that this order of creation be respected ... That which is often expressed and understood by the term ‘gender’ in the end amounts to the self-emancipation of the human person from creation and from the Creator (so, consequently) the human person lives against the truth, against the Creator Spirit.

This nugget of high ecclesiatic metaphorizing contains a real gem, the notion of an outdated metaphysics. Humans viewed as simply heterosexually oriented men and women -- all other versions being sin and aberration -- is as outdated and incorrect a metaphysics as the notion of the sun orbiting the earth. The Creator Spirit has composed a whole spectrum of erotic orientations, each capable of informing full, human and Christian relational lives.

No wonder that the Pope, if he's as fond of being viewed as a man of science as his minions say, has trotted out Galileo.

Hey, I may have flunked Biology, but I aced Astronomy 101.

We recently watched an old Sopranos episode, the one in which Tony learns that an old flame, a vulnerable woman he had treated very poorly and jilted, had committed suicide. He is shocked and upset, and embarks on an orgy of self-justification and self-exoneration. He rushes from acquaintance to acquaintance, pushing favors on everyone, trying to rehabilitate himself in his own mind as a good person and a good friend -- favors that, in several cases, lead only to pain and suffering.

Hey, the Church's medeival views on gender may be leading to incalculable human suffering, but look how modern I am: the earth revolves around the sun.

And, of course, this outdated metaphysics of gender -- oh, what the heck, homophobia -- flourishes on both sides of the Tiber.

Enter, stage right, America's so-called Pastor, evangelical blowhard Rick Warren, selected to deliver the invocation at the upcoming inauguration. When I read this online my first thought was, "please let this be a joke, some satiric meme run amok through the intertubes." But, sadly, no. This is a "Pastor" to whose church you cannot belong if you are gay. This is a "Pastor" who believes women must submit to their husbands. This is a "Pastor" who believes that aborting an insentient clump of cells is the moral equivalent to Hitler killing Jews. This is a "Pastor" who advocates the assassination of world leaders as a diplomatic tool. He was chosen as a gesture of "inclusion."

Inclusion ? If by this you mean including one of the world's biggest excluders. Not just including, either -- showcasing !

And there has followed the nauseatingly predictable conversation, all too familiar from the ongoing Anglican Communion strife. That we must honor this particular brand of gender bigotry because it is a matter of "faith." Indeed, that we must not even call it bigotry, because it is "Biblical," albeit cobbled up from various out-of-context, mistranslated proof texts, and elevated to a Sarah Palinesque level of undeserved canonical authority.

And why does the inauguration need a Christian preacher, anyway, to deliver the invocation ? What about voices from Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism or Atheism, to name a few ?

I'd planned a major, if only inward, celebratory party to coincide with the inauguration day festivities. Instead it looks like it's going to be a quick goodbye George, you motherfucker (not an inconsiderable pleasure, mind you) and a stinging betrayal straight out of the gate.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Advent 4

It's been snowing for three days straight, running the gamut from light and fluffy to sharp and nasty. The church year proceeds unfazed, as always, by things as temporal as weather. It's the fourth Sunday in Advent, and the longest night of the year. It was also the day of the Christmas Pageant and I felt, for a fleeting moment, as the robed and haloed and winged children assembled in the choir room, that I had been granted a glimpse of heaven. One of our newest members, a recently baptized baby girl with the most intense, penetrating blue eyes, played the baby Jesus; the innkeepers were played (with an amusing edginess) by the two teenage girls who always giggle at the altar rail. The rest of the cast -- narrators, shepherds, kings, angels, lambs and other sundry Israelites -- came from the pooled Sunday School talent of the two congregations that share the big stone church -- Christ Church, and St. Peter's Anglican Church of Uganda. It was, as I said, a glimpse of heaven.

And there was more heaven to come. Last night (as it snowed and snowed and snowed) we assembled dozens of Christingles for tonight's joint service. A Chistingle is an orange, cinctured by a red ribbon, pierced by four toothpicks each bearing three sweets. The orange represents the world, the ribbon, the all-encompassing, all-inclusive sacrifice and love of Christ; the sweets represent goodness of creation at every compass point, and also the twelve apostles. A candle is inserted into the top of the orange: it represents the light of Christ.

Tonight, just after nightfall, as fluffy was turning to sharp and nasty, we reassembled. The service, Revs Sara and Mary presiding, was in English and Luganda; afterward, there was food. St. Peter's choir sang. They are simply amazing -- brilliant, breathtaking, expressive. It was music one might expect to find in heaven. (What is this heaven place about which I am perseverating tonight ?) We all -- adults and children -- lit our Christingle candles from one anothers' flames in the darkened church as we sang Silent Night.

Heaven; yes, heaven on earth. The condition toward which Advent hope points like a signpost. The red cincture of sacrifice and love that encircles, even swaddles the whole earth. God is with us and we are with one another; life and love endure and replenish themselves the world over, struggling heavenward, lapsing, stuggling afresh. On this longest, darkest night of the year we glimpse the upcoming birth of light.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Chicago, Chicago

I've written about Chicago before, about my disastrous two month sojourn there in an ill-chosen psychiatry residency. It was awful, one of those embarrassing life episodes probably best left unmentioned, but it was more than that. My journal from that time is one long, complicated dissertation on existential anguish, an amalgam of inner states, cityscape, petulance and poetry with lake Michigan and the Chicago summer as backdrop.

But I was not led back to this era of my life by the thought of journals. God knows I have a million of them, tucked away in a cluttered closet. The thought of them repels me; most of the time I can't bear opening them. But thinking about my first marriage reminded me that I also had a visual record from the Chicago days that I hadn't revisited in years. I finally remembered that I had stashed them -- a sheaf of large, poster sized drawings -- behind a small bookcase in my study.

I had discovered, probably through my father, a wonderful drawing implement called Cray-Pas, or oil pastels, big, bright, unctuous crayons that went thickly onto paper with incredible vividness. I spent many hours in Chicago escaping from my misery by drawing. The colors, thirty years later, are just as bright as they were in the high white rooms I'd rented in a Hyde Park greystone a park's-view away from the lake.

Self portraits from that time show the standard me: bangs, glasses, midlength pageboy. And an expression of blankness tinged with curiosity, resignation and melancholy.

As in many of my drawings, the head is disproportionately big, like Greenland in a Mercator projection.

I'd rented a tiny apartment -- bedroom, living room, bathroom and a slit of a kitchen. The only visual artifact from it is a sketch of one of the windows in which I'd placed (is anyone surprised) some dead weeds and a sculpted head,

the same sculpted head that sits today at the top of our back stairs.

I was there to learn psychiatry. Instead, I developed a fascination with the program director's pocket handkerchiefs. They became some kind of emblem -- of detachment, of disregard, of imperiousness. Directed toward the patients, I thought, but really against me. Evenings, when I wasn't drawing or writing, I read abstruse existential analytic texts, the real outlands of Freud, and listened to the mournful horns of the oreboats (or, at least what I thought were the mournful horns of oreboats) from Lake Michigan.

I was probably as whacked out that summer as some of the people I was supposed to be helping. The whole endeavour terrified me. I was homesick, unprepared, unsupported, totally at a loss.

And I was working out a complicated, ambivalent relationship with the man who would become my first husband. He and I show up in various guises in many of the drawings. As does fruit, apples mainly, but other fruits as well. He was with me off and on in Chicago, and, according to my journal's grisly reports, this did nothing to simplify my sojourn. Yes, fruits,

fruits and knives, an old woman in a bed, and hands, fetishistically drawn, strangling,

a mammoth, buxom, pink and yellow amazon interposed between the man and the woman

culminating in an atrocious coupling/suicide. Looking at the badly drawn arm and the head-pointing gun, I scowl at the histrionics even as I try to look backward with compassion for an earlier, muddled self.

But there are peaceful images,as well: images of a desolate equilibrium. Empty landscapes,

with the merest gesture of season.

There are images that make no attempt at sublimation: Cray-Pas red is magnificent at rendering rage,

even murderous rage.

Then there are more self portraits. A naked, blue figure asleep facing a moonlit window, as if courting lunacy.

A red-robed woman gazing forlornly at a complicated, violent landscape under a sky full of giant fruit.

A baleful little child clutching a doll upon whom a grandfather gazes with mild concern

And the woman again, with strangers, gazing at a plant.

Then comes a series of table images: the woman, cradling her head in her arms beside an empty cup. It's dark out; the room is orderly, with lush, billowing, dark blue curtains, blossoming flowers and green door. The colors are rich. Her hand lies beside her, lovely, languid, relaxed, but the enormous eyes are bleak.

Another woman sits at a table. She's smoking; there is an empty cup in front of her, and another before an empty chair. Again, there is a plant, blooming lushly in the foreground. The woman gazes left, out of the frame of the picture, with a look of anxiety. For what or whom is she looking ?

Then the images disarticulate: there is a woman, floating on a blue ground, and a checkerboard tabletop off which a plate of fruit teeters

until the woman her self becomes the tabletop on which a cornucopia of fruit has spilled.

Finally, there is the strangest, most startling series of images -- unabashedly religious images, Biblical images, Christian images bubbling up out of Sunday School bedrock like oil in bright, primary colors. I look at them now, and they seem like postcards or desperate shipwrecked messages-in-a-bottle, sent to me by an earlier self struggling to arrive at or even envision the metaphysical space where I am today.

Maybe it was the oil pastel itself that inspired these images, lending itself so naturally to depicting stained glass.

It was, of course, the relationship that provoked the Adam and Eve drawings. I must have known that it was based on bad faith , in both the existentialist and religious sense of the phrase, maybe even on sin. There was a Freudian miasma that overhung my whole Chicago sojourn, a sour cloud engendering all the massive, blood-red apples and sinister phallic serpents of the drawings. It was a great schema into which to dump all my sexual and existential anxiety. There, I could keep it at bay, at arm's length. Leaving one hand free to pinch my nose.

In the first drawing Eve is awake, gazing at the snake. They seem to be in colloquoy, cooking something up. Adam dozes at her side, knee coyly covering his genital, his hands and feet are drawn fingerless and toeless like paddles: is he a castratus or and undeveloped fetus ? Eve and the snake are conspiring. Adam is napping.

In the second drawing Adam is wide awake, scowling, fully clothed, in the foreground. Eve stands, naked, dreamy-eyed and content, under a fruit-laden tree. They seem to be inhabiting different worlds -- Eve an oneiric, mythologic universe, Adam, a hard-edged, street-clothed reality. Timeless Freudian/Biblical miasma vs. Hyde Park, Chicago, 1978. This is an accurate trope for the disparate worlds Philip and I inhabited.

But poor Adam is defenseless against the merciless Cray-Pas. The snake encircles the afflicted pair; Eve seems to be both holding and holding off a monstrous apple, and Adam holds two anguished, empty hands in front of him, both fully, fetishistically digital now, one deployed like a fig leaf, the other simply, well, dangling there. Two hands, ten flaccid phalluses. The snake -- the one-eyed snake, no less -- is rampant, triumphant. It both encircles and towers over the pair, hermaphroditic.

No one ever eats the fruit in these pictures. But make no mistake about it. The fruit has been eaten and shared in secret. Fruit has been both stolen and freely given, fruit has been slipped between sleeping lips like poison, like the poison apple that brings sleep -- the sleep that suspends one in pre-adolescent innocence, the sleep can be dispelled only by a true love's kiss.

Neither of us were quite up to that.

The most shocking drawings have no thick overlay of Freud, and no stench of the self (as a group of personal essayists once memorably entitled a panel discussion they held at a local bookstore.) There is, simply, Christ. I can't for the life of me recapture any of what led me to draw Christ. Truly, there was nothing in my Chicago misadventure -- sordid and comic as it was -- that evoked the Passion. It must have been the thing-in-itself that drew me to it, this scandalously particular event that, at the time, I had so much trouble fathoming. I remember poring over the Bible in high school, trying to get the eschatology straight. Never mind the Resurrection, which was baffling but relatively straightforward, what was this Second Coming thing ? I remember fretting over bodies in graves, bodies coming out of graves, Christ going up, Christ coming down again, all very literal, geometric and maddeningly confusing.

In my drawing, Christ, looking tired and vaguely peevish, hangs from the cross without nails. A half-moon shines in the darkened sky; the branch of an oak tree enters the drawing from the right. In the distance lies a city in the desert. A blue clad woman -- Mary ? -- looks on in distress; a soldier with a crimson cock's-comb on his helmet gazes quasi-erotically at Christ's feet.

In the next drawing the sun has returned; Christ's eyes uproll, probably in death. Again, there are no wounds. The sky is a fine. Marian blue and the ground is green

Finally, there is a Pieta: five women hold a long, lifeless orange body. Behind them, sunflowers reach heavenward. If I could not fathom eschatology, I could still imagine a mother's love, a mother's helpless grief.

And, apparantly, a father's harshness: in the next drawing, Abraham leads Isaac into the mountains. The story horrified me then and it horrifies me today. Was there some resonance with my own family constellation in these images ? A powerful, father, a distant, passive mother: these were certainly themes in my own psychoanalysis,

but another drawing depicts a preoccupied, depressed appearing man from whom an enormous, naked pink baby hangs

and yet another depicts an infant asleep on a bed inscribed "Mater Noster" while mother herself, naked and hairless, bristles in an electric rainbow of anxiety and stares warily out of the frame of the drawing.

So which was it, Sigmund ?

My life then and thereafter was one interminable Advent. Desert sands would sift back over whatever highway I managed to build, and thorny tangles would quickly overgrow any path I'd managed to bushwhack through my inner wilderness. And yet, apparantly, something in the confusing parables and eschatologies of my religious miseducation had stuck, and taken root.

I was unable to keep watch with Christ. I drew him, threw him up on a Cray Pas cross and stowed him for a quarter century behind a bookcase. But He was still watching over me. And when I could finally surface from the muck and mire of my ordinary, contingent life, there He was, arms open, waiting, welcoming, forgiving.

This final drawing is prescient. It depicts a solitary, androgynous figure climbing a ladder. Above her a sun blazes in an empty sky. Below her is a city in a desert plain, Civitas Dei, or, City of God, according to the banner that waves above it. It's not a very inviting looking city, perched on a cracked rock foundation, surrounded by barbed wire, bristling with dangerous appearing towers. It looks more like a prison than a city, and yet it is the City of God. Was I, the artist as a young woman, being ironic ?

The figure on the ladder is looking down, as if rethinking her upward trajectory. As if the apophatophilic quibble of not being able to discover Jesus Christ in the wordless silence of a glorious sunset or a magnificent forest (where one could certainly discover God the Creator) were losing its power over her. Instead, something else seems to be calling her, something down there in the prickly, narrow, miscreant-ridden byways of Civitas Dei, down there where the inns are always full and oligarchs are always demanding their due, down there where muddled men and women try and fail and try again to negotiate the thickets of their lives,

down there, down here, where God enters history as Logos, as Redeemer, as Exemplar, as Savior and where a wind called Spirit sweeps through the littered streets raising dust and trash, clearing the way and clearing the air, making way for something that is always and ever new.