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Monday, August 18, 2014

The Sweet Smell of Generosity

Today I expected to get work done. And I didn't. Let's just say it was a Mary moment, because the Martha dedication had time to wait. I faced a choice - to excuse myself and work, or to be open and generous with myself, even if it means a lot more to do tomorrow.

Generosity seems like an easy thing, in a way. You have two apples, you give one away to the kid who has none, right? You sign up to put together a basket for your local church raffle, or you bring a couple of toys to a Christmas drive.

These are good starts, sure. And they make other people's lives a little brighter. But I think generosity is something that is a habit: a deep giving of self that is done in such a way that the giver never runs out, and the recipient always feels blessed - gifted. Generosity has to do with the primordial call to be gift to one another, and to find ourselves in that self-gift even as Christ revealed Himself to humanity in the ultimate gift of self.

I have a friend who responds to his personal struggles of self-doubt and injured worth with generosity, a way to acknowledge his own value, giving what only he can give. One way I know when this friend is being generous is when he seems happier, more self-assured, complete.

But still. I find it very difficult to accept others' generosity in my own life. I mean, sure there are the amazing and humbling gifts of generosity like the ones that got me into this doctoral program. There is the generosity of the people who helped me get to Germany all those years ago and those who let me stay. The big gifts. The help I got to go to Rutgers. The financial support I have received. All these gifts came from need or desire and others' desire to see those things fulfilled for me.

Having said that, I am deeply humbled, Every Time, when someone gives me their time, their ear, a voice, and encouragement. While it is not always common, I find this over and over in the world I am now in, and yet it still stops me in my tracks. This kind of generosity has a sweet, sweet smell, like a bright incense that lingers. It is a kind of sweet smoky offering that honors God in me, despite me… because of me. It has been the late night emails of a former mentor, the conversation at a conference with an old friend, the impromptu discussion with the professor who never met me, but graciously makes time and space to hear me. In this world I am in it is mostly teachers of theology, because those are the ones I seek. They are the ones who know how much it means to be told "I want to hear what you have to say," or "I can't wait to read what you're writing," or "We need you" and they are generous enough to say that to others, and to me.

I have a colleague who has absolutely no reason at all to be anything but nice, or maybe even civil. And yet she will answer all questions I throw her way, and never seems exasperated. She will share anything and everything she has, from her work to her books to her time. I am always surprised.

Why am I always surprised?

But thankfully, my response doesn't stop at surprise. It continues on in like kind. I try to listen. I try to encourage. I try to give. I try to share. Even to those people who will not be long in my life. To those with whom my relationship is basic. To those who are in my life showing me in their need, in their eyes, in their longing, in their bodies that they bear Christ in them.

Sometimes I can be generous with what I have.
But I think that real generosity starts with who we are.
It starts with that being… that self-gift as a Way of Being a person, as a Way of Being Christ.

I know the proper response to the human person is love. I know the brightness in my heart when I receive that love in someone's gift of self. And I am sure I will continue to have many opportunities to share that love with others. I only hope I can do it with the generosity of those who have inspired me.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Forgotten, but Not Gone

Where have I forgotten this?

When I was 17 I moved away for a year to live in central Germany. I needed a real change from my life at home, and no one was supporting my desire to go to college, so moving 3000 miles away seemed like an obvious choice. I spoke no German and was suddenly immersed in a world I had never imagined - the food, sounds, smells, contacts, scenery, clothing, cars… all were different. I would walk down a street which bore buildings older than the US. I hauled fresh milk from the barn, I worked the organic wheat fields, I learned to ski, I learned to make bread without a recipe and I washed windows weekly.

When I came back as a student teacher, enrolled in college, I was pulsing with the world. I had backpacked for a month of the journey… I still remember the ballet and opera -with-marrionettes in Austria, the museums and churches in Italy, the castles of Ireland. I was beautiful in those days, because I had made room for the kind of beauty that fills me - for art and culture, for wonder and adventure. My classroom was creative.

A few years ago I ran into one of my students, who is just a few years younger than I. We hadn't seen each other in 20 years. And he recalled the kind of bohemian style I sported i those days - what I think he perceived as a relaxed enjoyment of the colors of life. He wouldn't have known the growing pains under the surface- that I could not sustain the woman I was made to be in the environment I was in. But he reminded me that maybe I forgot something.

I just read a blog about beauty vs. prettiness… and I am sharing it HERE because I think it's really worth a read. Now, often when I see these mommy and daughter chats online, I read a line or two, decide they are far too smarmy for my taste, and move on. But this one struck me.

Because I forgotten something.

She talks about surrounding herself with beauty because it gives her the chance to imbibe that beauty - to BE beautiful. For her it is with art and music, with candles and scent. I used to light candles in my home all the time, probably for the first dozen years of my adult life. I used to do all my paper grading with music playing, all my cleaning to the beat of a band. But somehow, over the years, when life got "busy" I stopped taking the minute to press "play", stopped buying new candles… or worse, left them in a drawer.

I stil pursue beauty. But I am becoming reacquainted with it. My heart still thrills at good art, the ocean is the place that fills my heart and soul with beauty, I own lots of music…. But I agree with the blogger - I want to be a beautiful woman, even if I am not always a pretty one. I need to start lighting my candles, playing music around the house, using the fragranced soaps and lotions that sit prettily on my bureau. I don't want to forget that urge I have always had towards the beautiful, because it is that beauty that makes me strong - because it is that beauty that makes me "me" - and it is that beauty that impacts the world. Because it is that beauty that is God who is Beauty working in tiny ways to make my heart, and my soul beautiful… and that inner beauty makes my body beautiful, no matter what size or shape or color or grace it has.

Last night I took part in the seasonally weekly ritual that has come to help fill my desire for beauty. It's a television show called So You Think You Can Dance. Consider that these women's bodies reveal a way of being a person. Those bodies - strong and powerful, soft and graceful, are so wildly beautiful. But they breathe life into greater stories about ways of being a person, about love and life and grief and anguish, about hope and trial and unity. The women's piece was stunning this week - an ensemble of seven young dancers sharing the strength and the stamina, the camaraderie and the sisterhood, the passion and compassion of what it means to be a woman. The choreographer said before the show that if people saw the performance as "pretty" the women were not doing it right.

I think they did it right:
Click this link to the youtube video - it's worth your time… turn up the volume, widen the screen, receive the beauty. (I can't help but think how much stronger, how different the same dance would have been through the experience of older women's bodies…)

I have started to pursue beauty again, in these summer days between semesters. I picked up my SLR camera after a long time of disuse. I have made the effort to go the the art museum sit on the beach in NJ and Maine, find new music. It is making me a better person - a more beauty-full woman. It gives me the space and the mindset to be in prayer, and to be prayer.

And so I think perhaps that part of the feminine genius is, all along, the ability to be beautiful and to fill others with beauty so they, too, might be beautiful. Being beautiful means in a way, to be filled with God who is beauty, and to share God who is abundant in grace and love with one another - to hope to see as much beauty in the other and receive from the other as we might have and share. And so in the hope of fuller communion, of gifts to give, of beauty to share and to be… this year I am going to light candles again, turn on music places other than the car, cry my heart out while watching the dancers on tv, and take time by the sea. Won't you join me?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Who's Talking About???? Being A Body!

Great news!
If you've been following my blog for a while (and if you're new - welcome!) you know that I have been a student of a theology of the human person composed by John Paul II that is usually called the Theology of the Body. It says things like - we are made in the image and likeness of God, and the body is Good because God told us so, and in Genesis we were created as persons for our own sake to be a gift of love with and for one another… and so much more.

THIS JULY you can learn So. Much. More.

The Theology of the Body Institute is hosting a Congress right in Philly! Easy to get to - easy to fly into - three days to bathe your head and your heart in the joy of the Gospel, and become more aware of who you were made to be.

And…. uh… I'll be there learning right alongside.

It will ask questions like this:

And also questions like this:

Some of the academic speakers will be Dr. John Grabowski of CUA talking about Marriage, Dr. Janet Smith from Sacred heart Seminary in Detroit talking about aging, Dr. Deborah Savage talking about the Feminine.

Some of the "popular" speakers include Mother Olga on TOB and Mary, Bill Donaghy on TOB and Art, and Christopher West.

AND Bishop Jean Lefitte on the Glory of the Body, AND Fr. Brett Brannen on the priesthood, And….
You can find out all about registering HERE…. Meet new people! Bring your friends (new group rates), stick a poster up in your parish or diocesan offices, or ministry…

And if you're new to all this - what I call "TOB curious" then this is a wonderful opportunity to hear international speakers on a whole mess of topics that have to do with you. Three days away from hustle & bustle and into a place where we can learn and think and pray and share.

Spend W-F in Philly and then head to the Jersey Shore for the weekend :) You know you want to…

Did I mention I'll be there, and love to meet you?
think about it. Pray about it. Share the goodness.

Where else will you hear a bishop talking about this:

Happy Summer!
See you there :)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Birth and Dying - What Does It Mean? Buy This Book

I don't write reviews often, but this one begged to be done. So I wrote a review for Amazon and Goodreads, and I'm posting it here as well, so you can read and enjoy and comment (!) and share….

This book, Theology of the Body, Extended: The Spiritual Signs of Birth, Impairment and Dying was written by a former professor of mine, and friend, Susan Windley-Daoust. I have been anxiously awaiting its arrival ever since she first sent me a chapter to read, hoping to get my take as one of those Theology of the Body people, to be sure it sat well. Um. YES.

And as we know the gift of life is planted, nurtured, grown, and finally birthed… So to help her announce the birth of this book, I will include my review, and urge you to consider stretching your own intellect and heart and reading it for yourself!

It can be purchased at AMAZON here and its associated blog can be found HERE as well.


Susan Windley-Daoust's brand new book Theology of the Body, Extended: The Spiritual Signs of Birth, Impairment and Dayingis a deep exploration into the human condition and our relationship with birth, death and impairment through the lens of the work known as the Theology of the Body given the Church by St. Pope John Paul II. While many people think the Theology of the Body is some version of the church's teaching on sexual chastity, they would be mistaken. The pope's work explores the meaning of the person, as ensoulled bodies, and our relationship to others and to God.

Windley-Daoust's take on this teaching is to recognize the moral theology in the second half of the pope's Theology of the Body, but to spend her time exploring the largely unarticulated first half: the "what does it mean to be human" question, and the implications of this for a theology of birth, death and impairment. The author asks whether these are signs and if so, whether they point to God.

The book is sectioned into four chapters. First is an introduction to the work of John Paul II, some background on his spiritual and philosophical influences, and some of the major points of his Theology of the Body. The other three chapters each cover the theme in context of childbirth, (bodily) impairment, and dying. Each chapter offers a particular theology of its theme: a theology of childbirth, a theology of impairment, a theology of dying.

What is different about this book from other book out there with Theology of the Body in the title? Well, this book reaches broadly across the spiritual and theological tradition of the Church, incorporating things such as Ignatian spirituality, the work of L'Arche, current theological views on death and dying, medical history of birthing and care of the body, and saints from Athanaius to Therese of Lisieux to Servant of God Dorothy Day. It appropriates the deep consideration of the meaning of the human person gleaned from John Paul II and applies it to the human condition and experience. And it asks how all of this has meaning, is significant, and teaches us perhaps something about God that God has revealed right in the very body of the people we are, and know, and come into contact with.

Who is this book for? This is an academically structured and theologically astute text, but it is by no means accessible only to theologians or academics (though they will find it gripping, as I have). It is for intelligent readers who want to explore the depths of the truth about who God makes us to be. For those who are unfamiliar with the Theology of the Body, it provides enough background and may pique your interest towards reading the original text. The author helpfully provides a short synopsis of key terms at the start iof each chapter, and also offers Scripture verses and saintly quotes for meditation as the reader moves forward.

But I've read someone else's version of the Theology of the Body, or I've read John Paul II's actual text - so what about me? For those of you who are familiar with the Theology of the Body and want more, or those who, like me, consider yourselves scholars of the Theology of the Body, I promise you will find that this book is an invitation to put out into the deep and to find yourself stirred by the layers of humanity and the call to truth within the pages. While it is intended for both a male and female readership, and I encourage both, intelligent women will recognize in this a book that finally says in text what so many of us suspect in our intellects and hearts about motherhood, womanhood, hospitality, and communion.

Finally, I have to admit that I picked up this book expecting to read a chapter and put it down for later, but I stayed up late to read it most of the way through in one sitting, because it captured my theological imagination and is an insightful synthesis of the Theology of the Body's anthropology with the spiritual life and tradition of the Church. I strongly recommend it for parents, armchair theologians, priests, smart women, Catholic readers, and the Theology of the Body curious.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Fruit Baskets + Random Courage = Feminine Genius

A week or so ago, I was having a really, horribly, no-good, terrible d̶a̶y̶ week (or two). Pressure was mounting at school, and some issues were doing their best to hammer me to the floor.

Everyone in my program was equally full-up with exams, papers, personal issues. There was almost no place to turn, and my heart was breaking from words others had spoken.

I put my head down, called a couple of friends, prayed - even at 3am when I was tossing and turning with words pummeling my thoughts - even at 9am when I had to walk back into that building, and try to be fine with the damage.

And here's how God works.

A fruit bouquet showed up at my door. Very, very, very unexpectedly. It was from one of the friends I called. And I remember thinking - it's not just that she supports me. But: She's On My Side.

But you can think, easily if you're a melancholic as I am, that someone who is a friend is more likely to offer that kind of love, because you guys are in it together. (And I am deeply grateful to have her in it together with me!)

But last weekend, I read a paper at the Siena Symposium at St. Thomas in Minneapolis, MN. Over the weekend I stayed at the DoubleTree, and ate breakfast both days in the restaurant there at their buffet. On Saturday, there was a bubbly young woman named E who brought me tea. But she came back to the table to chat, asked me what I was doing in town, seemed really interested when I explained the conference.

She was replaced ten minutes later when a middle aged woman named S working there also came by to check on me, and asked about my plans. When I said I was speaking at a conference called "Woman as Prophet and Servant of Truth" she stopped in her tracks. Wait! Let me get paper, she said and ran off. Soon she was back, sitting at the table with me, asking me to repeat the title, asking me more…. She explained she had run a gathering of women at her church, and that she felt the Spirit telling her something in my words. So I continued to share about my paper, just a bit - about the goodness of the body, and the way in which women speak with and for God, as the OT prophets like Deborah and Miriam. And then she said to me that God had "impregnated" her with the idea for her women's gathering, and it took five years to be born. I couldn't help but smile. Her words were spoken as only a woman of experience could have spoken them. Her analogy of her body and God's work was real. I felt like she gave me courage to get through the nerves of giving that paper on the Theology of the Body, and she said she would pray for me, and thanked me for sharing, saying: I knew there was something special about you.

Next morning, I was back. E was there with tea again. She remembered me, and asked how the paper presentation had gone. After I told her it was well received, I explained that it would need more work because I hoped to do more with it. She told me with a smile: you can do it. I have confidence in you.

On Monday I was back to wrestling with the voices lingering from the two weeks prior, and I was at Panera. While I was having a conversation with someone, I got choked up, just at the moment one of the workers, M, came to clear off plates. She came back ten minutes later, put her hand on my shoulder, and handed me an obnoxiously pink-iced flower cookie. You look like you're having a rough day, she said, and cookies always make that better.

In just two conversations a couple weeks ago, I was wounded and distraught. I felt isolated at best and rejected at worst. I have a soft heart and with much prayer, I realized the speakers didn't even know me well enough to think about that.

But God got me into this mess, as I remind him frequently, and I was amazed at the ways in which God still let me know He is sending me women to share their feminine genius with me, even as I continue to strive to find and share my own. M and S and E were beacons of God's love to me. They didn't know me, but they were able to love me. They hadn't read a paper I've written or heard a class I've taught or watched how hard I study. But they supported me, and encouraged me, and were On My Side as women.

And for the other women who have listened to my calls, invited me to come chill out, sent me fruit (my sister has also done this more than once for me: cookies are great but chocolate covered fruit is better) THANK YOU for being not just supportive, but On My Side.

John Paul II tells us that women have a unique capacity for "seeing" the person with her heart. I affirm this. My experience in just a few days was that women who were total strangers saw me with their hearts, and more than that, acted. My dear sister friends carry me in their hearts as well, and I do the same. Women need each other in this way especially, and it is through the love I have experienced from these women that I can forgive the others…