Saturday, March 30, 2013


Burrowing into the Lenten snowbank in which you find yourself fallen facedown is, after all, a losing proposition. When your cold and comfortable deathmask dribbles off into the watertable and your cheek hits pebbly mud and leafmold,  it's time to get up and move on. Off in the distance, on the far horizon, something is being enacted. Re-enacted, actually: the shapes are familiar -- palm, thorn, crux, tomb. There are old songs on the rising and falling wind, square notes and round notes like the tight buds studding the branches overhead. 

It's a perfect time for a farewell walk in the woods -- farewell to snow, to cold, to winter. Farewell to the congenial death and dying of the weeds. Something new is preparing itself, and the old is shucking you off, turning its face to the wall, asking to be left alone. But don't let farewell bleed too swiftly into hello. These things can't be rushed.

Bear with me, something mutters. And I shall bear with you.

Deal, you mutter back, knowing full well you or it might be talking to your- or it- self.

You glance, again, at the busy horizon. You feel a twitching in your feet, as if they were preparing to carry you toward it, toward your old place in the play, just as a pianist might feel their fingers twitch when they hear the old, long-woodshedded piece being played in a room high above the street. You've seen her -- under the lamp of the dark, deserted street, she pulls the tattered paper keyboard from a pocket, unfolds it, flattens it on the curb, and squats in the gutter. You've seen her cold fingers running up and down the paper keys. You've seen the long shadow of the preacher falling over her hunched figure, nudging her toward the busy horizon, intoning hymns in several tongues and keys --

Extra ecclesiam nulla salus.

Thank you for sharing, spiritual but not religious sunset person.

"Holy solitaries" is a phrase no more consistent with the Gospel than holy adulterers. The Gospel of Christ knows no religion but social; no holiness, but social holiness.

... the great Western heresy -- that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God. ... That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of being. 

What about that old Sufi tale, you think, headed toward the vallombrosa where the horizons are as tall and vine-and-branch tangled as rood screens, the tale in which the fool is searching for the lost key under the streetlamp because it's brightest there --

because it's bright, and key-strewn, and everyone else is there, in the spotlight, on the stage, entering once again the old, bloody story about how God became man, an atoning sacrifice, a resurrection, and everybody loves a happy ending, a message of hope and redemption, the triumph of the human and holy spirit --

-- except that, over the door that your lost key surely unlocks, is that most hopeful, unhomely and queerly and harshly loving of all warnings --

Lose hope all who enter here.

Monday, March 11, 2013


I have a  earworm of Yeats' "Sailing To Byzantium" lately, and a walk by the river yesterday did nothing to dispel my sense of myself as a tattered cloak upon a stick. But I was in good company. The late winter landscape is most decidedly a country for old women. The season of salmon falls, mackerel-crowded seas and the young in one another's arms is still weeks off.  

I was thinking about being a weed photographer. A photographer not just of weeds, but of dead weeds. It does seem odd, to have chosen to be documentarian of universally despised and rejected botanicals, invisible, insignificant; I am the anti-paparazza. No celebrity darkens my lens, nothing that can be monetized. Only that which (as the triad goes) is fleeting, unsatisfactory and lacking an intrinsic self: here today, gone tomorrow, something something something sorrow.

And I have been at it awhile. Long enough to remember when this fellow --

was slender and green and not in need of an arboreal dermatologist.

I have bailed out of the liturgical year again and landed face down in a dwindling snowbank of the natural year. It's where I belong. The green shoots of weeds preparing themselves below the blanket of mud and leaffall, patient understudies of that old usurper, Resurrection and Life, will reclaim center stage. They know their lines perfectly.

The riverwalk -- where I can dive into underbrush when a jogger approaches -- feels more congenial than a crowded ecclesiastic arkful of young couples and their babies.

That is no country for old women. 

Or at least for this woman, who likely feels older than she is, but who nonetheless pines for an anonymous back pew in a dim old church, walls blackened with centuries of lamentation, incense, candlesmoke -- do these exist anywhere ?  Have they ever ?

In my father's house there are many rooms --

I have a recurring dream, a lovely dream,  of a house with a room whose existence I have forgotten. When, in the dream,  I remember the room I am seized with a delight whose main components are curiosity and desire -- and I rush toward it. I usually awaken, disappointed, before I arrive.  If I do arrive, the room is usually large, bright, clean, windowless and empty. A perfect room.

And now, awake, I enter the room. I have a plan. It involves translation, performance, probably transgression.  There is precedent, of course. There is, after all,  the Logos, both spoken and written.  

I bring with me all I need, the elements of this thing I am about to do: one inkwell, one pen, one piece of three-holed, college-lined notebook paper.

On the night before he died for us, he took paper and, when he had given thanks,  said: take, write. This is my body, given for you, translucent, three-holed, overtraced with thin lines of arterial red and venous blue. 

After supper he took the inkwell,  and, when he had given thanks, he gave it to them and said: dip your pens into this, all of you, the ink of the New Covenant, spilled for absolutely everyone.

And, at the epiclesis, the moment when one would think Holy Significance would be summoned to the page, with the cursive stroke of the dipped pen, blood becoming text, there is just this: blot. 


And, instead of the fraction, that harrowing snap of wafer in cold church air, there will be the rip. Blot and rip. And then ?

At the rail, on our knees, maculate paper interposed, a kiss. 

Sunday, March 03, 2013


I went out with my camera for the first time in weeks yesterday. I was off my weed-photography game. I'd miscalculated the amount of  residual snow I would encounter and forgotten my hat. I did have more than enough bug spray in case I should happen upon a swarm of mutant Arctic killer mosquitos.   I knew the slush would quickly seep through my vegan knock-off Uggs, and that any self-respecting hobo would reject the filthy watch cap that I fished out of my trunk, but I struck out anyway, cap and all.  My soul has been Trans-Novemberish of late, and absent shipping out on an accursed whaler, I needed some lens time with the woods.   

I went to a local Audubon sanctuary, hoping that, because of  the early hour and the snow, it would be deserted. I stopped and listened. The stillness was broken by the appetitive screeches of not-so-distant children, their outside voices cranked up to 11. Small animals were quaking in their burrows, and, in the mud at the bottom of Turtle pond, hibernations were ending prematurely. Soon a puffy blue snowsuit, appeared, waddling up the hill beside its father. I plunged into the bushes, for my sake and its: my recent misanthropy would break a Geiger counter and likely scar a child for life.

I found plenty of material to be the objective correlative of my metaphysical state -- a dead log shingled with fungi, leaves with shattered panes, a disemboweling branch. I was carrying more than my camera with me into the woods. My socks were getting wetter and wetter, my feet colder and colder, and my right great toe (which I'd likely cracked two weeks prior kicking a door in a paroxysm of frustration and rage) was beginning to throb. This was the same sanctuary that, seven years ago, had inspired quite a different meditation.

Where had that pious creature gone ?

I confess: this week, as an homage to the upcoming Papal conclave,  I undressed the whole College of Cardinals. I stripped every last one of them of cassock, cap, cape and cummerbund and airlifted them to Fitchburg, Massachusetts


where I issued each new vestments, and sat them outside the local MacDonald's.

I've come a long way from the Tom Merton fangirl that wrote

Christ is the counterweight. Christ is the Word that utters God and the Word that God utters, the Mystery of Mysteries, the Holy Ground of Being. The scandalously particular Word -- that one Man, in that desert place at that point in history -- that echoes, compassionately, our own scandalous particularity, our own thrownness into this body at this place at this point in time. In the Eucharist, in communion we become part of the Body of Christ. We participate in the unfathomable Mystery of Being, we participate in God. 

So, as homage to no one and nothing in particular, I shall airlift the unfathomable mystery of being to the woods, where I will strip it of metaphor and meaning, of capital letters and the trappings of history,  and restore it to its pristine, scandalous and transient particularity.

It's the best I can do. Sede vacante.