Saturday, January 31, 2009


As much as I have complained about this harsh winter, there is something about it that I find deeply satisfying: at least the landscape is achieving the emptiness that is eluding me. Yes, I have been fretful. "I love to complain!" I announced at work after a small rant. When I am not fretting, I am plodding through the day, wanting it to be over, over, over so I can scuttle off into some hibernating solitude. At work I whipsaw between this naysaying, involuting irritation and the stance of listening, empathy and openness that seeing patients requires. I find myself using more and more hand sanitizer at the exam room doorway, for the small moratorium it affords as I rub the foam into my skin. Then I grit my teeth, knock, enter, introduce myself and Bartleby scuttles off to sulk and glare at me from somewhere under the corpus callosum. It's dizzying.

So finally, last Saturday morning, I bundled up and went to the river. I have not spent enough time outdoors lately, and it felt good to be out in the cold with my camera. The act of looking supplants everything. The bitching Bartleby and the listening-by-the-skin-of-her-ears doctor both take some naptime (heaven forbid they should negotiate a truce) and the world floods in -- the abstract, minimalist, winter world of branches crazing through a cold sky, and of the frigid intimacy of black water touching white ice.

I've left a string of lights up in the front window. "Isn't it time to take the Christmas lights down ?" asks DK, whose Jewish/secular sensibilities have been sorely tried by my church-related activities.

"I know Christmas is over. They're just lights. Think of them as hippie lights," I reply.

"They make me nervous," he mutters.

Tiny, human lights in the vast winter darkness: yes, maybe tentative and improbable and imperiled as God born as a infant in a manger, but also tentative and improbable and imperiled as our own existence.

"Receive the light of Christ," says the priest, handing a candle to the newly baptized.

The light of Christ.

As I drove home the other night there was a thin, crescent moon caught like a boat low in the trees -- a boat bearing a round, heavy, dun darkness, flinty, dusty. Around it flowed a sea of luminous black.

It's not either/or, it's both/and. Light, dark; Martha, Mary; together, alone; sound, silence; profane, sacred. We shuttle between polarities. It's all raw material, stuff stored in the atelier of our days. What will we make of it ?

Before I joined the church, I pictured to myself what belonging would be like. I placed a little effigy of me in a mock-up of a church and moved it around like a doll in a doll house. There was a certain satisfaction in that, like being a character in a story or a movie. Not unlike reading a biography of someone else.

And now, from time to time, I think "so this is what it is." Like today: sweeping flakes of crumbling stucco off the deep, sloping sills in the narthex under the Martha and Mary windows. Like ironing linen, putting numbers on a hymn board, buying groceries for the food pantry, filling the cruets with water and wine, picking up the altar flowers from the florist. I think of all the people who have moved through this big, shadowy, stone church. I think of centuries of church: altar guilds, sacristans, women and men caring for the linens and vessels used in the liturgy, that sacred dance wherein we participate in the Mysteries of God, God Incarnate, and Spirit.

So there is church, there is the river, and there is work: like a child's finger game -- this is the church, this is the river, this is work, watch the doctor shiver.

That is the koan, isn't it. To bring the same attention and affection to work as I do to the other two spheres of activity. In the exam room, oddly enough, it's not that difficult. Listening, like looking, clears the mind, facilitates itself. But what about that moment when 6 patients are queued up, all the exam rooms are full, three patients have just retiurned from xray, and the only available nurse is doing two other things, or when you've called for the third time for the stat xray readings and the patients are threatening to walk out, or when you see the name of an all-too familiar personage a few patients down on your list, presenting with yet another bout of "excruciating" dental pain or "excruciating" low back pain and the oral surgery or orthopedic appointment has been postponed for the nth time, and they need some more of that medicine, the only one that ever helps, doc, perco-,perco-, or when the EMR freezes in the middle of a complicated note, or the pharmacist calls to say the patient's HMO won't pony up for the drug you've just prescribed, or when the final patient finally leaves an hour after closing time and there are still 20 progress notes to write, or when some functionary from some department deep in the hospital calls to say that the CAT scan you've just done does need a pre-authorization after all, even though the insurance company functionary you called an hour ago told you it didn't and you want to scream "well, screw it then, just stuff the fucking xrays back into the scanner," or when the new outpatient practice configuration just HAS to happen NOW ! NOW ! NOW ! rather than in 6 months when the registration software will be ready, despite the labor-and-time intensive double registration the interim will entail, and they reassure you it will be OK because patients will be preregistered two days in advance, causing you to ask "And so have you retained a clairvoyant to pre-register the walk-in patients ?"

Attention and affection, but even more importantly equanimity. That's what eludes me. By mid day I am crouched at the heart of a massive whirlwind of fire-breathing gadflies, eyes squeezed shut, swatting wildly. Or so it seems.

It's like the story in Mark 4, isn't it, about the apostles in the boat in the storm. Wild-eyed, they bail, panic, shout snarky rejoinders at one another, as Jesus sleeps peacefully in the prow.

35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Peace. Be still.

The answer to the koan work ?

Monday, January 19, 2009


I only turned on HBO yesterday to hear Bishop Gene's invocation at the Lincoln Memorial Inaugural Concert. I was so alienated by the Rick Warren thing, so pissed that there was this fly-in-the-ointment of joy, that Bishop Gene's last minute inclusion was at least some redress. I'm not real crazy about pop divas, or pop music in general, although it was cool to hear Stevie Wonder and James Taylor, and I confess I was swept up in the emotion of it all, heralding joyously the end of our 8 year national disgrace and nightmare under the Bush Administration. But where was Bishop Gene ?

Well, the invocation was scheduled, apparantly, for 10 minutes before the entertainment so it was not included in HBO's broadcast. How difficult would it have been to schedule things to include this important and politically sensitive speaker ? AND, to make matters worse -- the loudspeakers "malfunctioned" through all but the last sentence of his prayer, so many in the crowd did not hear it.

And maybe, just maybe, if this double glitch had not happened, then the failure to identify the Gay Men's Chorus might not have rankled so much.

It's MLK Day. Yesterday, inspired by a splendid talk after church, I read his "Letter From Birmingham Jail."

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I couldn't help recalling Presiding Bishop Schori's words of several years ago regarding full inclusion of all genders, partnered or not, in all Episcopal orders and marriage rites:

"Each party in this conflict is asked to consider the good faith of the other, to consider that the weakness or sensitivity of the other is of significant import, and therefore to fast for a season," Jefferts Schori wrote.

Wouldn't a banquet of justice -- for all -- be preferable ?

Saturday, January 17, 2009


A bus driver in England is enjoying his 15 minutes of fame for refusing to drive a bus bearing an advertisement.

Busvertisement is a topic near and dear to my heart. I have written several ranting letters to the MBTA about the ads that plaster and, at times, completely encase public buses, most recently about a bus completely wrapped in an ad for scotch. Apart from my conviction that municipal structures and spaces should not be plastered with advertisement, there was the irony of a public conveyance promoting one of the basic ingredients of drunk driving. Needless to say, my letter went unanswered.

So what was the English bus advertising that so offended the driver ? Atheism. The ad reads --

There's probably no God. Now stop worrying, and enjoy your life.

There's probably no God. ???

I suppose one should no more expect an atheist to exhibit a nuanced theology than a teetotaler to describe the subtleties of a fine wine, but, still, it's a profoundly silly statement. First of all, shouldn't an atheist simply state "there is no God," and be done with it ? Doesn't the waffling "probably" make the statement essentially agnostic ? Manifestos shouldn't waffle. Agnostic is, by definition, a waffling stance. Waffling manifestos are ridiculous.

But even without that "probably," the statement is profoundly irritating. I like to think that the bus driver declined to drive out a sense of profound, philosophical irritation that went beyond disdain for that waffling "probably." Maybe I'm projecting. How can I put this ?

The "God" that an atheist does not "believe in" does not correspond to that aspect of existence to which I refer when I use the word "God." It took me a long time to understand that faith is not simply the act of swallowing the unprovable assertions contained in a religion's catechism, but rather an assenting, inquisitive stance toward/within the mysterious ground of all being. I have always chafed at the phrase "believe in God." It sets up such a dualism: me here, God there, and between us this louche transaction of belief. One might as well ask the eye whether it believes in "blue." If "God" corresponds to any aspect of reality -- and if religion does not relate to reality, what good is it ? -- we are swimming in God, saturated by God, we breathe God and God breathes us.

And as to that don't worry, be happy corollary ?

Don't get me started.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Relentless winter. Snow, then more snow. Snow on snow on snow. My camera lies idle in its box. The church choir dwindles to two. My voice cracks on high D. The house slowly returns to order after the last of the heating installations, but there will be more disorder to come when the workmen haul out old pipes and boilers and radiators next week.

After vacation came a solid, bruising wall of work: the penultimate of Friday's notes got written at 11 pm, the last one is still unwritten. There is one MD, whose notes I sometimes see in the EMR, who writes his at 4 in the morning. These long nights of writing are not uncommon, then.

Writing ? Well, not exactly: dictating, pointing, clicking, hoping to catch the Dragon's more egregious boners before I sign the entry, like the one that had the IS tech in stitches as I begged her to help me correct it: the dictation program had replaced a stairwell's dangerous "protruding beams" with a "protruding penis." I did catch the "little liver bracelet" that had somehow malapropped its way into another note, but I am sure that there are other improbable toads in the hyper-probable garden of my electronic medical record entries that I have missed.

Language is slippery and I am in one of my apophatic, let all mortal flesh keep silence phases. Maybe it's a byproduct of the disorder of the house, the thronging, syllogomaniac masses of accumulated stuff, that has me addled. That old dresser in the guest room that I've been clinging to ? Chuck it. And while you're at it, chuck the guest room too. Bathwater ? Baby ? Gonzo.

Even with the best of intentions, it's hard to let go. My closet was in disarray after the workers ran pipes through it, so, righting it, I took the opportunity to get rid of masses of unused clothing, some worn to rags and unwearable, some wearable but, for whatever reason of aesthetics or comfort, unworn. Some, like these unfortunate LL Bean shoes, barely worn and basically unwearable. (Let me remind you that the shoe life of a vegan is not easy.)

Some garments, the most beloved ones in fact, like the torn-and-threadbare beyond repair red flannel shirt (hand me down from DK) , went right into the trash, sentimental attachment be damned. The others ? I would haul them to one of those roadside, charity clothing collection bins. Like those three pairs of pants that fit so strangely they, by the end of the day, induce a case of mild hysteria. Get these freaking pants off me !!! Perhaps someone out there has a body shaped like them. And those sweatshirts I never wear, and that 5-sizes-too big white oxford shirt -- be gone ! All of ye !

Then there was the bag of my mother's clothes, given to me by my father after her death.

Mom was always a careful, stylish dresser and left racks of clothes in pristine condition. I, on the other hand, to quote a nurse I once worked with, "dress like a farmer." I came downstairs a few days ago wearing jeans with a six inch hole over the right knee, a old, much-mended but still fraying cotton sweater, an ancient gray shirt acquired from some undeterminable male relative, and a black hooded sweatshirt from my son's junior high days. Even DK seemed appalled, and gently suggested I discard the jeans. The outfit was, I admit, squalid.

Hold that image, and imagine its antithesis: that was Mom.

I did try on the clothes. The neat pleated trousers, the tasteful, fitted blouses, the bold, patterned sweaters. I even retried those sweaters after hacking out the 1980's shoulder pads. It was no use: I was wearing another woman's skin. I was an imposter. I was in drag. I felt strangely nervous, in a sci-fi sort of way. Possessed.

So, finally, I decided to give them away. All of them. I would keep two things -- a nubbly, zippered, brown cotton jacket with a pattern of galloping horses on it, and a lavender trenchcoat -- puffy padded shoulders notwithstanding -- I don't have a raincoat and this was a perfectly good one. I could stand feeling squirrely a few times a year. At least I'd be dry.

So, last week, I loaded up the trunk with three bags of clothes -- two mine, one my mother's -- and drove off into the cold, winter night toward the collection bins in the local Super-Gargantuo-Mart parking lot, just down River Street. I pulled up next to the bins and stared, disheartened at the sight: the large metal containers were full to bursting. They were vomiting torn bags from their metal mouths. Bags were piled on top of them, and littered the snowy ground around them, bags with clothes bursting from them, others clearly stuffed with and disgorging trash. There were piles of bright, broken toys and appliances and other unidentifiable objects, in a visual metaphor of the just-past holiday's excess. A stuff hangover.

How could I abandon my mother's clothes to that waste heap ? I felt a knot in my chest and throat, and sped away without getting out of the car. But I would not abandon my project. There was another collection bin across town, beside a small grocery.

It was silly, I knew it. These were just clothes. But they'd been her clothes. Why, there was probably some of her DNA in them ! Now I knew that was ridiculous. I wasn't about to clone my mother. I wasn't attached to some forensic trace of her. I have a small jar of her ashes on my bureau, and I am oddly detached from that, too. But, still, these clothes represented some version of her -- a version of herself she created by choosing and wearing them -- a version of her against which I grew up and created by own version, much like how one strand of DNA encodes a complementary, opposite strand.

I drove, and tried to conjure my mother. To summon some vestige of her. I have tried this time and time again, and it never works. No neat, stylish ectoplasms ever materialize even when I promise to let them smoke in the car. A paroxysm of mourning hit me, magnified by the darkness and the snow-clotted roadsides, intensified by the memory of the scrap heap of abandoned objects that I was fleeing.

This was the essence of the pain of attachment, I reflected. To the clothing, yes, but only as an extension of my mother. Attachment to myself as well -- to my old red flannel shirt and to the woman who wore that red flannel shirt for a decade. I thought of how hanging up clothes still warm from my body never fails to unsettle me -- the thought of the heat leaving them, of my body leaving them, of my body and self dissolving back into its Source and joining every sentient being that has ever and will ever draw a breath. A comforting thought, perhaps, that death is the least lonely place, that, in it, we rejoin the Source, God Who is Love. But still there is that nagging amour propre that wish to be this self in perpetuum. That wish to have ectoplasms summonable from somewhere at our beck and call.

It reminded me of what I chafe at in Christianity: its various economies of the afterlife, as locus of bliss or punishment, and the attendant further eschatologies of the last days. If hell is alienation from God, exile in the outer darkness (where it is always cold and snowing) -- then hell is on earth, hell is an experience of our sentient minds and bodies, as is heaven, as in on earth as it is in heaven. What about heaven-on-earth, what about the Kingdom of God, how do we attain these ? It's simple. Christ taught us: love God, love each other. That's how, and that's it. Honor the immense dignity of everyone and everything. In the end, as at our ends, the beneficent Source gathers every one and everything lovingly back into itself, even Its most wayward children, into a place beyond the dichotomies of heaven and hell.

Like many, I have grown weary of and impatient with all the gender-based -- and, ultimately, power-based -- aversions that some Christians have elevated to core doctrine. As if the Infinite Ground Of Being actually somehow gives a shit about and wastes time fretting over what particular physical expressions of erotic love occur between consenting adults. I, for one, respectfully decline to "believe in" an I-GOB with such a prurient mind.

Weary and impatient, yes that summed it up. Maybe it was the recent construction chaos in our house, or the bruising wall-o-work I encountered after vacation, but I was weary and impatient. I was listening to Zen dharma talks again and avoiding the Daily Office as if we'd had a lover's quarrel. Well, we had had a little spat. The Old Testament reading on January 1 -- Holy Name -- was from Genesis, God speaking to Abraham:

And I will give to you, and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession.

Which had led me right back to last summer's Daily Office waterloo, the book of Joshua -- the conquest of Canaan -- and its triumphalist descriptions of deity-directed genocide. First, Jericho:

Then they devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep and donkeys.


For Joshua did not draw back his hand, with which he stretched out the sword, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai.

And from there to Makkedah, and Libnah, to Lachish, Eglon, Hebron, Debir, until Joshua defeated the whole land, the hill country and the Negeb and the lowlands and the slopes, and all their kings; he left no one remaining but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel had commanded.

How in the world could reading this kind of stuff further anyone's spiritual growth ? Shouldn't we all just plop down on zafus and think not-thinking until we get a collective grip ?

I was weary and impatient, so the least I could do was clean out my closet. I pulled in to the little lot beside the grocery store. There were two neat clothing collection bins, impeccably clean, side by side against a fence. I smiled. There was room in this inn for my mother's old clothes, and for mine. Our clothes -- our DNA -- would rest side by side tonight, cozy, companionable, safe and secure. It was a small thing, but, like a candle sputtering in an immensity of night and cold, it would have to suffice.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

HVAC Kitty Blues

When we bought our big, old house 11 years ago the heating system was not its selling point. The first floor had baseboard forced hot water heat, with a 70's era gas boiler. The second floor had steam heat through old iron radiators via a truly ancient oil boiler. The finished basement which had been a questionably legal apartment and would be DK's studio, and the finished attic where my son would live had electrical heat. Even though we ran baseboard heat into the basement when we moved in, suffice it to say our carbon footprint and utility bills have been Sasquatch-sized.

After the gas boiler technician, at this year's tune-up, pointed out a crucial and expensive valve thingy that could crump "tomorrow or in 10 years," my provident, methodical husband began extensive researches into what could be done to simplify our patchwork of heat delivering machines. He obtained an array of proposals and estimates ranging from some device that would live in the attic crawl space and blow hot air downwards into the house, to obtaining a gas boiler that could simply heat everything and that would replace (with some major repiping) the oil-fueled steam radiators on the second, and even ascend into the attic.

A few months ago, just as it began to get cold, as if on cue, the gas boiler died. As the ancient oil burner chugged on merrily beside it, seemingly immortal, it sat there silently, sullenly even, water trickling from an enigmatic little downspout. It was a Sunday night, and cold. We stood staring at the silent, dripping machine. What should we do beyond putting a pan beneath the drip ? As DK sat on interminable hold with the gas company trying to make sure we were not going to blow up, burn up or flood out -- was there some knob we should or should not be turning ? -- I did what any reasonable person would do, I went on the Google.

In no time I found reams of stuff about backflow valves and downspouts and overflow tanks. There was this little lever, see, that if you lifted it, might just clear up a sludgy block and get things moving again. Yes, there was such a lever. I'd seen it ! Right atop the suspect valve thingy, infact. I was on to something here. Armed with this information, I returned to the back cellar, located the lever, and, gingerly at first, then with conviction, lifted it.

A raging torrent of blackish water instantly replaced the downspout's feeble trickle. I smashed the lever down. What had I done ? The flow went from raging torrent to torrent. Uh oh.

"DK !!" I screamed, having no choice but to face the husbandly music with my hubris-fueled DIY disaster. He assessed the situation, threw caution to the wind, and turned a knob on an overhead pipe that seemed to lead in the general direction of the spewing boiler. The torrent slowed and stopped. I heaved a sigh of relief. DK, loving husband that he is, did not say

What on earth were you thinking, woman ????

So fast forward to our current construction. DK obtained a great price for redoing the whole thing, bottom up: one gas boiler, baseboard heat on all floors, removal of all the old pipes and boilers and radiators and tanks. OK, we said. We'll do it. It wasn't going to be cheap, but there was some inherited money we could use.

Although the whole project has taken hilariously longer than the contractor had promised, I must say the first phase -- restoring heat to the heatless first floor -- went swiftly. Within a day or two of signing the contract, the machine called Buderus had taken up residence in our basement. The crew did a careful, exacting, magnificent job.

Buderus is beautiful. There is no other word for it. Breathtakingly beautiful, practically sculptural. Wallmounted, practically silent, monstrously efficient and glistening white as a kitchen appliance, it radiates a serene haughtiness. It is practically cool to the touch. Not like the roaring oil boiler that radiates waves of heat. It is exquisite, sophisticated. A work of art. I expected it to address me in the soothing tones of 2001's Hal.

DK summed it up. "Our new boiler has algorithms in it," he said, in a tone of mild, ironic wonder. Beside it the old oil boiler roared away. I watched the flames dancing through the chinks in its door. I gazed with pre-emptive nostalgia at the little glass tube with the water level that I'd had to maintain at the half way mark, and at the red reset button that would summon back the flames if I let the level fall too low. And I would miss the banging of steam in the pipes and the cozy whistly hiss that signaled the heat was coming on.

After many weeks, and not a little impatience on our part, the attic came on line. And this past week -- after another long delay -- the crew tackled the second floor, boring through ceilings, running pipes and baseboard elements. And I must say, although we grumbled mightily at bizarrely numerous promised arrivals of the work crew that never materialized, we have never been without heat. And all the delays have allowed us to use up the full tank of oil we had at the outset of this process.

It's been disruptive -- less than I'd feared -- but it's taken the biggest toll on Sami, our most neurasthenic kitty. She's had a rough time lately. Just before Thanksgiving she disappeared. An inside kitty, we knew she was somewhere in the house. After a day of searching, we found her wedged behind a bookcase. When we extracted her, we noticed there was something amiss with her gait -- the hindquarters seemed a little wobbly, ataxic -- not frankly weak, as she could still rise up on her back legs, but not quite right. I poked and prodded at her legs and she didn't seem to be in pain. We isolated her in a room with litterbox and food and determined that she was eating and drinking, then hauled her to the vet. The diagnosis was, "Gosh, we don't know !" Blood work and one of those creepy full cat xrays they do were normal. Perhaps we could taker her to an internist or a neurologist ? In the meantime, give her some appetite stimulants ! Well, we did give her a few doses of Remeron, she hoovered up many bowls of catfood, and slowly, over a few weeks her behavior and gait improved.

Then the construction crews came. Two days ago, after a day of major Buderus-related activity, we realized we hadn't seen Sami for hours and hours. Could she have gotten out ? It was unlikely, although not impossible, that she, freaked out by the commotion, had darted out an opened door. We scoured the house top to bottom multiple times. As night fell, we began to worry. Really worry. Where could the kitty be ? We stood on the back porch calling into the darkness. I looked under the cars, I looked in the garage. We swept through the house again, searching all the know cat cubbies and hiding spots. No Sami.

Then we heard it. The meow. The faint meow. The faint plaintive meow. We heard it in DK's studio, in the finished part of the basement next to the unfinshed boiler room. It was definately not from outside. My heart sank. We went through the flimsy louvered doors into the unfinished cellar. We quickly looked around. No Sami. Buderus purred coyly, almost inaudibly, on the wall as if it knew and was not telling.

Around the corner from Buderus there is an unsavory little cul de sac that contains the basement toilet's "ejector pump," the occasion of a grotesque homeowner's disaster of two years ago. It rises up out of a round steel plate that covers a cistern of Edgar Allen Poe caliber eaux mortes. How deep ? Waist deep, I was told, but I don't believe it for a minute. Infinite, I suspect. It is the stuff of nightmares.

Beyond the plate and pump is a space where, I vaguely recalled, a kitty of yore had gotten into some mischief. I squeezed into the cold, narrow slot with a flashlight, and pulled back a curtain of fiberglass.

There was a space behind it. I gingerly lowered myself to my hands and knees and stuck my head into the cold, dusty space. I trained the light to the right, and there she was about six feet away, in the immensely long, lightless tunnel between the foundation and the basement's inner wall. "Here Kitty," I called, which prompted her to scurry farther away into the seemingly endless tunnel of darkness.

There followed much hand wringing, much listening to plaintive meows through DK's studio wall, some futile thumping on said wall in an attempt to scare the kitty out. No avail.

She would probably come out, we reasoned. When she was ready. DK rigged up a light and trained it on the opening in the wall. I did what any reasonble person in our position would do, I went on the Google.

A search on cat in wall resulted in 30,800,000 hits, and "cat in the wall" 67,200. We were, apparantly, not alone. Two common themes seemed to be "it will come out when it's ready" and "tuna fish." There were, of course, the horror stories of walls needing to be torn down, and skeletal survivor kitties emerging after months of incarceration. But I would not dwell on these, no. Instead, I opened a can of tuna fish. We placed it at the opening, and I went upstairs to read. In about 20 minutes DK called me.

The tuna was gone. The kitty ? Back in the tunnel, plaintively meowing.

Well, at least we knew she was sort of indoors, appetite intact, and could come out if she wanted to. It was cold in the tunnel, but not as cold as outside, and she had on her fur coat. We'd slop down more tuna and go to bed, making sure to keep the four other beasts upstairs. I didn't like the thought of our sweet little Sami alone in the dark, but she had her own cat agendas to work out, and there was no way that I was going to try to wiggle into that skanky little tunnel, yet, anyway. Have you ever Googled "wife in wall" ? Only eight hits. I rest my case.

As I tried to fall asleep, I struggled to keep my mind out of Poe territory -- tell-tale meows, cries of For the love of God, Meowtresor !

In the middle of the night I heard DK get up. I knew where he was going. After a bit he climbed back into bed.

"So did you check on the kitty ?" I asked.

"Yup. I opened the door to the basement and she bolted up into the kitchen !"

The Google had redeemed itself.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Altar Guild Chemistry, 2

Q. When the temperature of the sanctuary falls to 34 F due to a malfunctioning boiler, what can you expect when you unscrew the brass follower of the liquid paraffin candle in order to fill it ?

A. This.

That is to say, the normally floppy and pliable fiberglass wick standing at bolt-upright, frozen attention, its length caught in a cylindrical mass of gelid paraffin.

Q. And what, dear friends, do we learn from this.

A. Paraffin is freaking weird.

Here endeth our lesson. Kyrie Eleison.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Carnis Resurrectionem

If you recite, as I try to do, the BCP daily office, you will, twice daily, find yourself declaring that you "believe in the resurrection of the body."

At the heart of Christianity is the Incarnation, God's compassionate condescension into history and flesh. We celebrate this at Christmas; we participate in it each time we receive the Eucharist, becoming one conjoined body whose head is Christ. It is the one moment in which all my rational quibbles with the notion of Christ's resurrection dissolve. God is with us, in us, around us; in God we live and move and have our being. Christ: the Word that was God, the Word that became flesh, the flesh that was resurrected as enduring Word.

God is the absolute, unfathomable, unspeakably mysterious Ground of Being. Jesus is, well, more down to earth. And thank God for that. We need something to talk about, in a language we can understand. Christ is the Logos that says it all: birth, love, suffering, death. But resurrection ?

Jesus cut through the crap. Look, He said. It is really quite simple. Love God, and love one another. I am the Way. Whoever through love of God and neighbor attains the Father has, by definition, even if unwittingly, come through Me.

(Here, you may note, I am paraphrasing in a way that will prove disagreeable to some.)

If religion does not reflect reality, it is useless. That is what is so charming about Zen. Dogen said, Honey, it's really quite simple. Plop your butt down on your cushion, sit up straight, and think non-thinking.

Or, more canonically,

When you first seek dharma, you imagine you are far away from its environs. But dharma is already correctly transmitted; you are immediately your original self.

That does not, of course, abolish the necessity of sitting Zen any more than the simple fact of rebirth in Christ at baptism abolishes the necessity of loving God and one another. Inherent grace must be actualized.

The Office is relentless in its reminders of death. Last night's Psalm 90 declares

Lord, you have been our refuge *
from one generation to another.

Before the mountains were brought forth,
or the land and the earth were born, *
from age to age you are God.

You turn us back to the dust and say, *
"Go back, O child of earth."

For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday
when it is past *
and like a watch in the night.

You sweep us away like a dream; *
we fade away suddenly like the grass.

In the morning it is green and flourishes; *
in the evening it is dried up and withered.

and, this morning, Psalm 103 takes up the theme once again

As a father cares for his children, *
so does the LORD care for those who fear him.

For he himself knows whereof we are made; *
he remembers that we are but dust.

Our days are like the grass; *
we flourish like a flower of the field;

When the wind goes over it, it is gone, *
and its place shall know it no more.

Dogen replies,

There are those who, attracted by grass, flowers, mountains and waters, flow into the buddha way.

But resurrection ? Of the body ?

Well, for starts, there is baptism. Little wonder that the Apostle's Creed forms the heart of the Baptismal Covenant.

We thank you , Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn in the Holy Spirit.

Then, of course, there is thinking non-thinking, the most apophatically macro of macro-photographies: not leaf, not cell, not organelle, not molecule, not atom, not space, not time, not light, not lens, not eye, yet somehow all of these, center and circumference, creator and created, the bright tissue of deathless Being --

yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.