Sunday, April 13, 2014

Holy Week 2014

Imagine knowing you are going to do something clumsily if you try it and yet doing it anyway. What could this mean? Either the outcome does not particularly matter to you or the issue at the heart of any outcome is so important that you cannot not try.

I remember reading this passage by a spiritual writer who died in 1914: “Meditate on the Passion, no matter how unskilfully, how clumsily, virtue will come out from it to us, to heal and to strengthen.”

For a religious superior who returned so often to “right thinking about God” as key to an individual’s progress in prayer and the spiritual life, Mother Janet Erskine Stuart seemed to have taken an intellectual humility pill before writing what she did.

Was she up against fellow sisters who continually lamented their failure of imagination in meditating on the final days of Jesus? Were these women who despaired of matching in their personal prayer the stirring detail by which retreat directors had moved them to tears in their preaching about the sufferings of Jesus?

Mother Stuart would have understood what Pope Francis sent out on Twitter last week: “How beautiful it is to stand before the Crucifix, simply to be under the Lord's gaze, so full of love.”

For that matter, I understand it.

Raised – like the Pope – at a time when the Way of the Cross was a devotion that filled parish churches during Lent, I recall the language of the prayers attached to the fourteen scenes arranged along the walls of the church. Through that language I learned that my response to the sufferings of Jesus was something by which Jesus would be comforted. I learned, in other words, that a relationship already existed between this man of sufferings and myself and that the relationship mattered to him.

How does that relationship matter to me as a man in his early sixties?

I am looking for analogies, but I am not sure I will be entirely successful. I would have to understand things in my history better than I do to propose an analogy that will help my life with Jesus make sense in print.

It is Holy Week, however. I look forward to the services. I look forward to sitting with people who can meditate as clumsily as I.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


Look at them.

I do every time I visit my brother’s house in New Orleans. They are familiar from visits over the years, but last week I determined to make a record of some of the lampshades with which my brother in his decorating avoids the obvious and predictable – again and again


He knows how to invite attention. Because he has paid attention to detail, others pay attention. Because he has varied shape and size and color and edging and pattern and fabric, the lampshades in his home invite visitors to join in a certain playfulness. Watch where I go, they seem to say. Did you expect this, they almost ask.

Avoiding the obvious and predictable is something I strive to do when I write. In my experience, good writing is not the result of merely decorative words, however. It is not the unusual word for the sake of variety. More often than not, power of expression emerges when a writer with simplicity names what might not even have occurred to a reader as worthy of expression. Yes, the reader confesses, that is in fact how something in my world feels, how it looks, how it claims attention or sometimes even deflects it.

I suddenly notice. I almost involuntarily respond.

Tricked by the simplest of words, I recognize my world. I enter my own life.

My heart can feel called to attention.