Tuesday, June 28, 2005


This past Sunday I accompanied Brent to church, which I try to do unless I'm overworked, overtired, overstressed, or just plain too lazy. As you might expect, it doesn't happen often enough, but I always love going. This Sunday was especially good, as I didn't have to sit by myself even though Brent was acolyting (I assume this can be a verb?). A couple of friends who live in Brooklyn came all the way out to Princeton to spend some time with us, and so we all piled into the little green car Sunday morn and bumped our way down Alexander Road to Trinity.

I've been to church with Brent enough now that things are beginning to feel familiar. I know the tune they sing the Doxology to and I can remember to sing their words and not the ones I grew up with. I know how to sing the Sanctus in the middle of the Great Thanksgiving leading up to Communion. I know how to navigate my way to the altar rail and I don't freak out about how to hold my hands just right to receive the bread, or worry that I'll confuse the person giving me the cup and end up with wine down the front of my shirt. And I no longer feel that everyone is looking at me all the way up to the altar and all the way back to my seat.

I bet all this sounds really silly to people who have been going up to an altar to receive Communion all their lives. But these are the things you feel when what you're used to is having an old man in a bad tie hand you a plate while you sit in the pew. The only thing you have to worry about is when they forget to come pick it up from you after it's been passed. This sometimes happens. It's a real problem if you're a woman and you feel like you can't stand up and take it to the guy (someone might think you're usurping, you know).

Anyhow, taking Communion at Trinity has become a very special thing for me. It truly is the focal point of the service. The sermon happens, is over, sometimes is good, and then we begin "The Great Thanksgiving," a very long (or so it seems to this CofC kid) liturgical movement which retells in gratitude the story and the meaning of the crucifixion, punctuated by responses from the congregation expressing thanks. Then we move to the altar. The bread is presented with the words, "The body of Christ," and the wine with, "The blood of Christ."

Sunday evenings, I take the train into Brooklyn and meet with a bunch of other Manhattan CofCer's who've committed themselves to Christ's Church for Brooklyn. Right now we're a house church. I've missed the house church dynamic after coming back from China. There's something unreproduceable about the intimacy of sitting in someone's living room. It's something like the difference between homemade and store-bought bread. Homemade church. This past Sunday, we sat around Joe and Laura's living room, around their coffee table, and shared communion after being invited to think about what this church would look like in a year: what new faces would there be around the table as we share communion together in the future? As we sat together, I imagined us all as various parts of the body, a la Paul's metaphor, and thought, which parts are we missing? What parts will join us and make us whole? Who will be a part of our journey together toward wholeness in Christ?

Two communions, separated by about 6 hours, an hour's train ride, the difference between high liturgy and informal address, the difference between altar and coffee table, church and living room. And yet, somehow, the essence of communion--being drawn together with God and with others--collapses those differences, making it plain that whatever the form, the bread and the wine function the same. The body of Christ, the blood of Christ. What else could make two celebrations so different one and the same?

Monday, June 20, 2005

hear ye, hear ye

I have an announcement to make.

I am a "bad Christian."

I have proof.

You can find out if you're a "bad Christian," too. Take the test. I would encourage you not to endeavor to improve your score (despite the exhortation at the end when you get your results back). Think of it like golf: the lower the better.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

my interior castle

For part of my History of Doctrine comprehensive exam in the fall, I am reading women mystics: Teresa of Avila, Hildegard of Bingen, Catherine of Siena, and Julian of Norwich. I have never read them before, which is part of why I'm reading them now. The doctrine I am following in this part of the exam (and also in Augustine, in another section of the exam) is Christian anthropology, or as my professor prefers as more accurate, Christian psychology (using psychology in a radical way, referring to the psyche as the soul/mind, rather than the current professional use of the word).

And that's all very interesting. I am very interested in Christian anthropology/psychology, it is academically relevant to the direction I'm headed in with regard to the dissertation, etc., etc. But I have an ulterior motive here, too. I want to know what it's like to be a woman mystic. I want to know what "union with God" really means, not in an academic sense such as "when Teresa of Avila refers to the prayer of union she means x, y, z," & footnoted. I mean, I want to know what union with God is. I think I want a mystical experience.

Unfortunately for me, Teresa says quite clearly that union with God isn't granted for the sheer wanting of it. It's a fleeting and unpredictable favor which God grants to whom God chooses, inexplicably.

So I've been reading along in The Interior Castle, where Teresa compares the soul to a castle of clear crystal, within which are myriad "dwelling places," and within which, in the center, dwells God. Each dwelling place, in her metaphor, represents a certain level of spirituality. Union with God is a process, a journey through each of these dwelling places (although, as she points out, there's nothing ironclad about this process; God can give you a shortcut if God wants to). Not everyone makes this journey. And, it seems pretty clear to me, that Teresa thinks not everyone can, or should feel compelled to; she's not writing a pop-Christian manual for the laity, but to her Carmelite sisters.

There are seven dwelling places that Teresa talks about. I am about to begin reading about the sixth (which has eleven chapters to it--clearly this is something big!). I was going to finish the work before writing anything about it here, but I found something so wonderful in the third chapter of the fifth dwelling place that I had to stop and write about it.

As you might imagine, there's been a lot of stuff about spiritual consolations and spiritual delights of union...stuff that, while I can try to understand what she's getting at, I just don't have a personal experiential grasp of. But after all of this, she says:

"...it will be good to avoid giving the impression that those to whom the Lord doesn't give things that are so supernatural are left without hope. True union can very well be reached, with God's help, if we make the effort to obtain it by keeping our wills fixed only on that which is God's will."

I got very happy at this...and then very disappointed. I have in the past ranted (although not on this blog but I'm sure it will happen sooner or later) about the vagueness and uselessness of the trite phrase "God's will." (I especially hate when people affirm that vacuous sentiment "everything that's happened in my life has brought me to this point" and think that that's some kind of description of God's will. Uh, HELLO! Is it not obvious that everyone's life can be viewed as one long chain of cause/effect from any point? Shall we all pause before we get up off the toilet to reflect, "everything that's happened in my life has brought me to this point! Praise God!" Hmmm...guess that counts as a mini-rant and it seems to have happened sooner rather than later. But hey, "everything that has happened in my life has brought me to this point"...Praise God!)

So, I read on, a little disappointed in the Holy Mother, but thinking, well, obviously she has some idea of what that means even if I don't. But luckily for me, she goes on:

"There is no reason to doubt the possibility...of true union with the will of God. This union with God's will is the union I have desired all my life; it is the union I ask the Lord for always and the one that is clearest and safest. ...The Lord doesn't have to grant us great delights for this union; sufficient is what He has given us in His Son, who would teach us the road. ...Here in our religious life the Lord asks of us only two things: love of His Majesty [note: she often uses this phrase to refer to God] and love of our neighbor. These are what we must work for. By keeping them with perfection, we do His will and so will be united with Him. ...The most certain sign, in my opinion, as to whether or not we are observing these two laws is whether we observe well the love of neighbor. We cannot know whether or not we love God, although there are strong indications for recognizing that we do love Him; but we can know whether we love our neighbor. ...I have said a lot on this subject elsewhere, because I see, Sisters, that if we fail in love of neighbor we are lost. May it please the Lord that this will never be so; for if you do not fail, I tell you that you shall receive from His Majesty the union that was mentioned. When you see yourselves lacking in this love, even though you have devotion and gratifying experiences that make you think you have reached this stage, and you experience some little suspension in the prayer of quiet (for to some it then appears that everything has been accomplished), believe me, you have not reached union. And beg our Lord to give you this perfect love of neighbor."

It is astonishing to me that in what is basically a manual for prayer with the objective of achieving mystical union with God, in the middle of it, love of neighbor becomes the means of union with God. And how perfect is the last bit? Teresa of Avila scolding those who take their visions and emotional gratifications as proof of union without worrying about their neighbor. Can we hear this too much? I don't think so.

So maybe I'll stop worrying God for some kind of mystical experience. Maybe I'll take Teresa's advice and beg our Lord to give me this perfect love of neighbor instead. And we'll see what happens, sisters.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

who sinned?

The disciples were gazing at a blind man. They probably were feeling something like "but for the grace of God there go I." And they wanted the explanation. Why him and not me? Who sinned, this man or his parents?

Yesterday the baby across the hall from Ira died. And now it seems everyone is searching for an explanation, one which will assure them that there's a reason this happened across the hall and not to Ira. One that will assure them that this won't ever happen to Ira, because Ira is safe from the dangers that strike other babies in the NICU.

It's too early in the morning for me to rant about this. It just makes me feel tired. Why haven't we learned? Why do we insist on fabricating neat little explanations for things that aren't neat and tidy? We read the Bible. We have Elie Wiesel and The Sparrow. Why don't we hear truth? Why do we close our ears to it and prefer to make comforting shit up?

Here's some truth. God didn't "spare" Ira because Joe is a good Christian man. God didn't "take" the baby across the hall because the parents didn't pray hard enough. And Satan is not "poofing" out my faith because I dare to notice and say these things. If Satan is involved in this in any way, I'd say he's playing the role of false comforter and dispenser of easy lies. Get thee behind me.

Monday, June 13, 2005

on my own

So, Brent is in Florida all this week for the Stephen Ministries training. I think this is a great thing and I'm really glad that Brent has been asked to help do it. But this is the first time I've ever stayed behind while he went off on a trip. I've been to OR twice to visit A & J up there, for a week each time, and left Brent behind. That was fine...but it sucks to be the one left at home. As I'm finding out, 2 hours into the deal. This place is so echoingly empty.

Thank goodness my cool Lutheran neighbors get back today from their vacationing so I'll have someone to hang out with when I get super lonely. In the meantime, I've got the cat. And LOTS of books to read. Up for this week:
the last few pages of H. Richard Niebuhr's The Responsible Self
Plato, The Republic
Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle
Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (hopefully it arrives soon)

Of these, I've read Niebuhr before (and am almost finished with it anyway--will probably knock it out on the train into Brooklyn for church later today) and also the Republic. But I haven't read the Republic since 10th grade, except for a couple of times in various classes over the last decade where the Allegory of the Cave was excerpted. But I am so glad that I have read it. James Cockerell, wherever you are, bless you! It took some balls to put Platonic philosophy on a 10th grade reading list. But you did, and I read it, and now I'm reading it again...for a PhD comprehensive exam in philosophy & theology. Way to think ahead! Way to prepare us 10th grade self-absorbed neo-hippie deadbeats for our potentially bright futures!

Of course, this also means my copy of Plato is seriously and embarrassingly doodled all over with everything from sunbursts to "I love ..."! I really might find myself compelled to get another copy, especially if it turns out that there's agonizingly adolescent marginalia. I find margin notes from college embarrassing at this point now; I can't imagine what 10th grade notes are going to be like. And I was never one to write in pencil. (What's frightening about all that is, I remember doing it, and I feel exactly as mature now as I remember feeling then. So the question is, is this feeling of mature selfhood a total illusion? Or is that I'm doomed to fifteen-year-old consciousness for the rest of my life? Or am I reading back my own self-awareness now into my memories from then?)

So. Here am I, on my own for a week. What am I going to do? Probably watch a lot of movies, and Gilmore Girls re-runs instead of annoying Dr. Phil at 5:00 pm every day. Maybe finally change that flat on my bike and enjoy some of this awesome sunny hot weather we've been having. Start a new knitting project. Hit the West Windsor Library and check out some more sci fi. (I can justify this: I'm looking for sci fi writers who incorporate ideas about the posthuman into their fiction, for later use or reference in the dissertation. Any of you who read sci fi and are interested, send me recommendations.) Study for comps. Finish editing vH's mss. Bake some bread. Eat lots of things I like that Brent doesn't like. Make some strawberry jam (2 quarts from the farm this week! Wow). Call my parents 'cause I'm lonely (already). Blog overtime 'cause I'm lonely. Go to bed early so I can get up early maybe and do yoga. Maybe make some progress on that long overdue to-do list...

Sunday, June 12, 2005

aardvarks and humans

Aardvarks and humans share the rare distinction of being the only surviving species of their genus.

Em? How 'bout a chorus of "I'm all alooone in the woooorrld"? Maybe the aardvarks'll join in...

Saturday, June 11, 2005

tomorrow's fun fact

What do humans and aardvarks have in common?

(I'll take suggestions.)

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

recipe for Em

Pasta & Greens

1 bunch Swiss chard
1 bunch watercress
3/4 cup ricotta
salt, pepper, nutmeg
1 lb. penne or whatever you like

Saute the washed and coarsely chopped greens in olive oil with some garlic. Add your seasonings, don't forget the nutmeg. When they're nice and wilty, take off the heat. Put the ricotta and the greens in a blender and blend till smooth. Toss with your cooked pasta. Top with pinenuts, Parmesan, chopped tomatoes if you like.

P.S. The greens are interchangeable. Use spinach or whatever you can find.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

the Chinese way

Thanks to everyone for putting up with my fit yesterday. I'm sure that there's some kind of decent reason for there to be an anonymous option for comments. Actually, a certain level of anonymity is what's attractive about blogging at all. People stumble across your words inadvertently, and without knowing anything else about you, learn what you think about the things that are important enough to you to blog about. That's a weird kind of anonymity that goes hand in hand with a real intimacy. You're inside someone's head...but you don't know anything else about that someone. We're all disembodied talking heads here in BloggerWorld.

So I'm not saying that's bad. A couple of weeks ago my husband told me the thing he liked best about this blog was that it reminded him of the emails we sent back and forth when we were dating/engaged, when I was in China and he was in Texas. I remember the freedom of composing those emails--I could say whatever I wanted, without editing, without worry. And this is kindof like that. I just get to be me, and follow whatever line of thought catches my fancy, and make whatever stupid puns or weird associations or abrupt subject changes I want. It's intimate to talk that way.

So, it's not really anonymity that puts my back up. It's just plain cussed meanness. Or maybe occasionally I mistake utter stupidity for meanness, but there's a point at which stupidity is inexcusable, too.

Abrupt subject change. Brent and I have joined a CSA (that's Community Supported Agriculture! I have now successfully remembered the meaning of the acronym without asking for help! YEA!!! For some reason I had been suffering terrible mental blockage on that one) for the summer, and every Saturday we drive out to Pennington, NJ, to the Honeybrook Organic Farm to pick up our share of various veggies for the week. So far we have been inundated with exotic lettuces, bok choy, arugula, and picked our own strawberries and sugar snap peas & a big bouquet of flowers as a bonus.

So Saturday night when we finally had our across-the-street neighbors over for dinner, we had a Chinese feast which included our bok choy and snap peas. This was da bai cai, not the small ones, so it was a little different from what we used to eat all the time in China. But it tasted right. So here's all you need to stir-fry some authentic Chinese greens: oil (with a high smoking point, because you need very high flame to properly stir fry), lots of garlic, greens, and salt. Yep, that's it. Let the oil heat in the wok and then toss in your garlic. Stir it around for just a few seconds and let it get fragrant. Then throw in your greens and stir them around. Maybe toss in a little water to steam them a bit, especially if they're taking awhile to get tender--stir fry should be fast. Salt to taste.

For the sugar snap peas I added some ginger along with the garlic, and seasoned with a bit of soy sauce and some sesame oil at the end.

We also had carrots, tofu, and eggplant. The eggplant wasn't from the farm, but I think we get eggplant in the future (maybe), so when that happens I'll be letting you all in on the Best Way to Eat Eggplant Ever. I love eggplant all kinds of ways, but the Chinese way is best.

Yes, I said "the Chinese way." I cannot count the times I heard the phrase--usually in the form of a censorious "that is not the Chinese way" in response to some clueless American lao wai question I'd just asked. Most often (predictably) I found I was not enthralled with "the Chinese way." But the Chinese way with eggplant...oh, yes.

Monday, June 06, 2005

plague of the anonymi

This is to all you anonymi out there.

Go get a name.

Quit hounding people with your cowardly, self-righteous, destructive stupidity.

Blogs are great. I love writing what I think, and feeling that every so often someone will stumble upon it, maybe read it, maybe think a little bit, and go on with life just a little bit changed, or encouraged, or challenged. But the dark seamy stinky underside of the blog world is YOU, Anonymous. You skulk. You take cheap shots and run away and hide under your non-identity. You SUCK.

But here's something for YOU to think about, no-name. Maybe in being Anonymous you have robbed yourself of your own identity. Maybe each time you write a wounding comment on someone's blog and click "Anonymous" you have eroded your very own self in the process. Maybe, if you do it enough, you will shrink down and fade away and eventually disappear from the earth with a soft, gushy little "pop!" and there will be no more of YOU. Maybe in betraying everyone else with your nasty, pusillanimous weaselly comments you are at the same time betraying everything good in your own self. Maybe in hiding who you are, you lose who you are and should be and might have become.

THERE. Go think about that as you skulk back to your evil slimy den and eat your Cheetos. And hey! If you want to comment on this blog, Anonymous, go right ahead. Because I already know how much an unsigned comment is worth. I won't delete it. I'll leave it there so everyone can witness what a coward you are. Maybe we'll laugh at you. Maybe we'll pity you. But we won't be able to respect you. Because there's no one there to respect.

Friday, June 03, 2005

life needs a soundtrack

(long mellow prelude)

baby, I see this world has made you sad
some people can be bad
the things they do, the things they say
but baby, i'll wipe away those bitter tears
i'll chase away those restless fears
and turn your blue skies into gray

why worry
there should be laughter after pain
there should be sunshine after rain
these things have always been the same
so why worry now
why worry now

baby, when i get down i turn to you
you make sense of what i do
and all it isn't hard to say
but baby, just when this world seems mean and cold
our love comes shining red and gold
and all the rest is by the way

why worry
there should be laughter after pain
there should be sunshine after rain
these things have always been the same
so why worry now
why worry now

(long mellow postlude, at some point the drummer wakes up)

Dire Straits, "Why Worry Now." I don't expect any of you to get what this song is for me. It's a piece of history. For awhile the only way I could sleep at night was to down a melatonin and put this song on repeat. That lasted about 6 months, maybe longer, and still, whenever I feel inextricably sad, I put this on. The song itself isn't profound. Just putting the words up doesn't really communicate. But there's something mesmerizing in it, something that doesn't offend by negating the sadness but sweeps it up and carries it.

During the insomniac phase I had a crisis. I was supposed to go to HUF and leave my cd player with its repeat button and go live in a villa and share a bedroom with 6 girls. How would I sleep? This was a problem. I was more dependent than ever on my song because I was trying to wean myself off the melatonin (Mom freaked out about it and, despite what she may tell you, I've always tried to make my mother happy). So my friend Ben recorded the song on both sides of a single-track cassette tape, and bought me a new Walkman that would automatically reverse and play all night long (as long as I had the battery power). I could listen to it in the villa on my top bunk, and I could listen to it on the many overnight trains. It was one of the most thoughtful things anyone has ever done for me.

So this is my recommendation for Joe. He asked for a song, not too fast or slow or too perky or preachy. This may be a bit mellow, but the drummer does wake up at the end.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

a light

This is the first time I've ever seen a picture of Ira without his breathing apparatus. He is such a cute baby. It's so nice to be able to see all of his face!

This is a small victory, like all the others before it. The smallness can seem paltry. Insignificant. Swallowed up in the greater sense of the loss of what might have been otherwise. But it can also be a light, shining in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.