Monday, March 9, 2015
Friday, January 2, 2015
This posting on one level is about the Catholic Church. But that is only superficial. It is not about any particular organization or any religion. It is about the human condition, and particularly one aspect of being human: how we live with one another. It is a posting about you and me, together.
I have a Catholic spirituality, but find it difficult to sit through a Catholic Mass, and find the theatrical sugar coating of evangelical mega-church services "unreal." That's me. People need different expressions of spirituality, and will find their own paths with openness to the Spirit, for the Spirit is an obsessed lover who pursues the beloved by whatever tactics it can, including using Pope Francis, Rick Warren, or even "positive thinking" types like Joel Olsteen. The other world faiths too are rich in truth and wisdom. All are close "to the Kingdom of God," and all are invited to enter in.
One of the rich veins of spiritual nutrition in the Catholic tradition is "Ignatian Spirituality." This path is characterized by cultivating daily interior awareness of God. The purpose of the "exercises" is to increase the experience of God in all things. It is a practical spirituality, very much in the world, but not of it. And, "the spiritual exercises" are simple. They often require little more than taking time each day to focus, reflect, and adjust.
For an introduction to "Ignatian Spirituality" and "the Spiritual Exercises," visit Ignatian Spirituality.
Pope Francis took his Curia [the internal Vatican bureaucracy] to the woodshed in his 2014 Christmas message. Francis is a Jesuit, and Ignatius was the founder of the Jesuits. So like a good Jesuit, Francis "examines" the spiritual health of the Church in this message. The message is a diagnostic, and the diagnosis for Francis is that his Church is "sick." A courageous conclusion.
But there is a positive side to Francis's message: the diagnosis will permit a return to health. That is why I first present the video: "God's Grandeur by Gerard Manley Hopkins" performed by Lance Pierson.
The following is reproduced from: "CRUX."
Posted by Frank Pray on 1/02/2015
Wednesday, December 31, 2014
Her eyes first interested him. They were small, darting, and dulled with age. She had become matronly over the decades, her hair a strange reddish gray, and her hips had given her a base of solid imperialism to match her years of weighty service as a judge.
But the eyes most told the story. They never really connected with you, at least not for long. They were cast towards you for a few seconds, as one might do to avoid a collision while texting or changing a radio station.
Looking back, he realized this was her way of containing life. She was on the other side of life, as she might have been on the other side of the bench. She observed the dramas before her. The eyes expressed a detachment, but a nervous one. Did they dart, or was it just a frequent looking away? At some point, the eyes had shifted from the side of life to death. She was not lovable. He remembered walking up to give a hug after the end of an exhausting 15 hour settlement conference. She had accepted the gesture, as one might accept a perfectly awful Christmas present hardly worth the trouble of returning.
She said many things to him over the course of his last two trials with her. Mostly the words came down to this: “Mr. Gray, you aren’t listening to me, and you don’t get it.” A secondary message was that the noble practice of law was not to be impugned by the suggestion that corporate lawyers help their clients find plausibly legal ways to violate the law. “I take umbrage at the suggestion,” she said, her voice rising. He had touched a nerve, like digging thoughtlessly into a power line.
He reflected back to her in his calm and carefully articulated wording the points she believed he did not get. When she realized he understood, but did not adopt her reasoning, she concluded he was simply stupid.
She was rich, she played golf regularly with the best people. Early in her career, she defended the city against employee lawsuits. She sat on so many non-profit and corporate boards that she was something of a biological monument to bourgeois enterprise. It wasn’t that she could never find an injustice against the “little guy.” It was that she imposed a higher burden of proof. For her, the presumption of corporate innocence was like a castle wall to be scaled by the barbarians.
Now one of the barbarians was taking the hospital elevator to the 4th floor oncology unit. Jack Grodin was a civil rights lawyer who had appeared before Judge Marian McKnight on many hard occasions, navigating the barriers that separated his clients from this old jurist’s sympathies. Oh, true enough, Grodin understood at the end of the day that the law must be satisfied. But he also knew after decades of practice, the law is an elastic device that could accommodate every bias. He took his cases, and his judges, as they came. When he drew the Honorable Marian McKnight, he slept less, and prayed more.
When he entered her room, she was sleeping, the darting eyes quieted now, hidden beneath locked eyelids. He did not try to rouse her. Cards, flowers, stuffed animals, the usual regalia of token love surrounded her. Mostly, he sat in amazement at how the old warrior was humbled. Tubes and pumps, monitors and beeps were higher in the hierarchy than she. The rail now as at her bedside, not her courtroom, and he instantly pitied her. It came to this for us all. The game of life has one ending: you either lived well or poorly. There were no pretensions or diversions at the end.
He sat awhile, as he might sit in a quiet chapel, grateful the two of them were alone. It was their last case together that brought him here for this short vigil. He represented a dying man with a malignant brain tumor. He had rushed the case forward in a race with death. She had been assigned to be the judge. He claimed the corporate employer had fired his client on trumped up charges to hide their intent of discrimination because of his client’s cancer. That simple. Except it is never that simple. Judge Marian McKnight issued ruling after ruling cutting down his client’s case. She characterized his “evidence” as speculation, and his arguments as “illogical,” a nice word from the bench to mean “ridiculous.”
It was over now, for the case, and for her. Before she could rule on a motion to dismiss his case for lack of evidence, she collapsed on the bench, her body twitching and distorting violently. In one of the great theatrical ironies of life and law, she was later diagnosed with a highly aggressive brain tumor with little chance of recovery.
She opened her eyes. He was unaware she was looking at him for he staring out the window, watching the last sunlight of the day bounce off the glass high-rises in shades of red and orange. When he looked back at her, he saw a tear trailing down her cheek, followed by another from the other eye.
“Wanted to see how you were doing.”
“What? You want me to rule on a motion? Sorry. Court adjourned.”
“I think you’ll make it. Still got a sense of humor.”
“How would you know if I have a sense of humor.”
They looked at each other for a while. “You know, I think you’re one of the worst lawyers who ever came into my courtroom.”
“And I thought you were one of the worst judges.”
“So why you here?”
“Cause in some strange way, I understood you.”
“You think this little end of life drama will change things?”
“Why not? It’s an opportunity.”
“Mr. Grodin, not everything that slams into us results in a remedy.”
She coughed. “Could you hand me that orange juice?” He stood, moved her meal tray into position, and handed her the cup. She sipped, put the cup on the tray. “What do understand, Mr. Grodin?”
“You had a heart of gold, encased in lead.”
The eyes looked directly into his. “Where’s your evidence for that, counselor?”
“I was your foil. Most of your arguments were with yourself.”
“As I recall, you consistently lost.”
“Sometimes I won.”
“You’re weren’t always as obnoxious as I suggested.”
“You remember that case when you reamed the defense for hiding a key document?” he said.
“Any idiot could have won that one.”
“You were pissed,” he said.
“They deserved it.”
“After that case, I knew you were “OK,” he said.
“Finally won your affections did I?”
“Found you completely charming.”
Quiet again. She continued to look at him.
“How’s your client, Mr. Swaggart?”
“Strangely at peace.”
“I was ready to rule against him you know. The seizure saved you.”
“It was a hard case. The defense pretty well brought out all the guns,” he said.
“What did you expect?” the judge said.
“Maybe a little compassion, I think they turned the jury against them. Anyway, after the mistrial, they settled.”
“Good for you.” She paused. “Life is too short.”
An orderly brought in a plate of food, and set it on her tray, muttered something and left.
“I can’t eat this grap. You hungry?”
“Really? After that recommendation?”
He pulled out some almond macadamia nut cookies from his coat. She had told him once during a recess they were her one weaknesses. “Thought you might like these.”
“Grodin, you’re always challenging my dismal opinion of you.”
She opened the small carton of milk on her tray, and bit into a cookie. “I should have eaten a lot more of these when I had the chance.”
She wiped her mouth, pushed the remaining cookies away.
“I was too hard, wasn’t I Grodin?”
“You mean the case?”
“No, I mean l life. I mean the whole damn persona?”
He studied her a few seconds. “The ones who knew you, knew better.”
“But the ones who didn’t Grodin. The people off the street coming into my courtroom, like Mr. Swaggart.”
“You were always fair, judge.”
“But that wasn’t enough.”
He didn’t answer.
“This place. It’s like a courtroom.”
Grodin looked around. “Same decorator?”
“It distances people,” she said. “I feel like a slab of meat. Thing is, they’re good at what they do here.”
Her eyes were steady, softer than he remembered. “But it’s not enough,” she said.
Posted by Frank Pray on 12/31/2014
Monday, December 29, 2014
Words, as “the Word” that in the beginning
Gave us the word: “button.”
When we run the mental films,
Mostly we’re tracking body parts
Activated by Buttons.
Who is it looking from inside the machine?
A neural button here, a reflex there:
Pretty soon you have a whole dance of consciousness.
Still there is that unbuttoned attachment
To things that crawl upon the earth
Responding blindly to stimuli.
Words come forth from these assembled parts,
Sad little sounds,
That plead the case for more than
The serpent nature
Condemned to crawl in sin upon its belly.
One may sew a button
Or push it.
By a button,
One may repair,
For words, and buttons identified by words
Present the animal with choices.
Button your shirt.
Button your mouth.
You, who are as cute as a button,
Or missing a button,
Or called to run a button hook,
Or to press a series of buttons
That let you in, or get you out.
It was a button that fastened
Animal skins upon our parents
Who hid in naked shame
For wanting to conceive us.
Now, the Button Book declares
God has it all buttoned up.
I read the stories myself: all about buttons
Popping off, and being sewn back
On tuxedos worn by monkeys.
Until one gentle man, upright and elegant
Arrived with all his buttons in place
Willing to share the name of his tailor.
Posted by Frank Pray on 12/29/2014
Friday, December 26, 2014
It was that “in between” time of October in upper New York when Gabe Malone walked from the house for the last time. Funny what a man remembers. He recalled that a rat raced into thick brown grass. He could still see the “to and fro” descent of leaves dropping from the big maple trees on the front lawn. He craved these sights as portals returning him to the ordinary. But it is not ordinary when your mother finds your wife in bed with another man.
That same morning, his mother had commanded his wife in usual tone: “Jasmine, bring my guest some tea.” Jasmine was by most accounts a real catch for a man like Gabe. She was dutiful, but rough around the edges, and for the last five years of their marriage, the edges got only rougher. Jasmine made the tea, and took it to her mother in law, Eliza, who sat in an oversized lime green chair on the porch. “Can’t we get rid of it?” she said to Gabe, and wanted to add “and can’t we get rid of the old lady too.” She found them both wrinkled, worn, and tasteless.
Eliza had no guest, but Jasmine brought three cups anyway, as commanded. She poured out tea for her mother in law and the invisible visitor. The third cup she reserved with a shot of Jack Daniels for herself. She played along with the old woman, finding the conversation at times entertaining. Would it be someone new today?
“Does your guest take sugar or cream?”
“You know the answer to that!” her mother-in-law said.
She added one teaspoon of sugar, no cream, and placed the tea within reach of the invisible hand.
“Rupert will be taking me shopping today, won’t you sweetheart?”
When Rupert didn’t answer, Jasmine, looking into some space she thought Rupert might be, said, “Please get her home on time.”
“I see how you’re making eyes at him, you little tramp,” Eliza said out of the blue.
In spite of the daily outbursts, this one set Jasmine back. Seeing Eliza’s strange fury, she said, “He’s nothing to me.”
“I know better,” Eliza said. “I know what you’re like, you whore.”
“Do you hear how she talks to me, after all I do for her?” Jasmine said to Rupert, wherever he was. She felt humiliated.
“I know what the little slut wants,” Eliza mumbled in undertones for Rupert alone. “She’s fooling no one, no one at all, ‘cept that fool son of mine. He’ll be penniless in less than 30 days, mark my word.”
Jasmine told herself she could afford to smile at these vile words uttered to an apparition. The trust documents had been signed. Later, she obtained a court order appointing herself as Eliza’s conservator. Yes, she could endure the old woman’s twisted attacks for a year or two more. Eventually, the hag’s brain would shrink to critical mass.
Jasmine had married Gabe seven years before. She spent her first two years of married life discovering how much she disliked her new husband. It began when he brought her home to live with his mother, an arrangement he described as temporary due to her declining health, but after a few months, she came to realize the old woman was a healthy as a horse even if it was a horse with dementia.
Just when she was ready to say goodbye forever to Gabe and his whining mother, two events intersected to change her luck. Eliza showed signs of rapidly advancing Alzheimer’s. About the same time, she caught mother and son in bed, or at least she liked to describe the scene that way to strangers. It was innocent enough, she knew. There he was, like a slumbering infant, his head on her shoulder, her hand on his cheek--the two of them taking a midday nap. But Jasmine knew in that instant what she had always suspected: Eliza was her husband’s true wife. “My God, what are you doing?” she screamed, jolting her husband and Eliza from their sleep. In those few seconds after her fortuitous discovery, she chose to become hysterical, walked in circles, cupped her own face in the palms of her hands, stroked her own hair for consolation, and seemed unable speak coherently. After a while she convinced even herself. But by then she had put herself in a moral quandary: was she supposed to report the crime? She decided the situation had more use as a threat.
Getting herself in charge of the estate was not easy. “I’m the one with a head for numbers, and you ain’t got the balls for it anyway,” she told Gabe. He showed more gumption than expected. “And you do?” he hissed while grabbing her crotch. The look in his face strangely excited her, and for a second she wanted him to pin her down. Instead, she slapped him. That seemed to jolt him from any illusions. He stood there staring at her. “You mess with me,” she told him, “and I’m reporting the two of you to the police.” The odd thing was he never challenged her, as if he really were guilty of a crime.
Now, five years later, she heard Eliza saying, “Oh, I know what you’re thinking. You’re betting on me being dead. You’re get’n nothing. I’ve seen to that, yes I have.” For a second or two, Jasmine felt a twinge of panic, but collected herself. Everyone knew the old lady was out of her head, but these incidents of stark clarity unsettled her.
She cleared away the dishes, including Rupert’s untouched tea. She needed to get out the house. It was a big place, with its balconies and porches, its gardens and gazebos among the weeping willows and meandering streams of the Adirondacks near Lake George. She was within months, maybe weeks of having it all, but Gabe and his mother made it so oppressive. She did not expect to feel so unhappy for so long. She walked to the stables, a heaviness overcoming her the more relaxed she let herself feel. Her black colt, Territory, was trotting with its mother around the perimeter of the exercise corral. Their ranch hand, Umberto, stood at the center, holding a loose rein in one hand, and a small whip in the other to guide the mare through her paces. When he saw her, he smiled that large white toothed welcome she rarely saw anymore, and certainly not from Gabe. There was an earthy simplicity about this man. He was probably ten years older than she, but still attractive with broad shoulders, and slim at the waist. His face was lean and dark from long labor in the sun. Thin waves of gray weaved through the stands of his midnight hair. He had a full mustache and a large hooked nose. She watched his movements. She thought him gorgeous and uncomplicated.
Umberto felt her staring as he worked the horse through its routine. For 30 years he had worked for people like Jasmine. He understood his success depended on anticipating their demands. He was here to make their lives a little easier, but some of them, like this woman, seemed grim even when they smiled.
“Senora, he said, his accent hardly discernible any more, “the colt is doing very well, no?”
“He’s beautiful,” she said, while looking at Umberto.
Umberto had begun his day curved around his wife in the predawn. Nuzzling the nap of her neck, he awakened her with his urgency. He hurried from the house later than usual that morning happy that the smell of her was still with him. Now he felt this woman watching him. Even at his age, he attracted women. He could gage their interest in the singsong of their voices, their unsolicited smiles, or lingering eyes. He could be more attentive than required. But there was no sin in keeping the younger men from taking his job. One day, he would see his sons and daughters graduate from college. This woman’s unspoken demands were a small price.
“Umberto, put the mare up. I need your help in the barn,” Jasmine told him.
“Si Senora.” He removed the mare’s harness, stroked her neck, and slapped her flank, sending her and the colt on a trot.
Gabe stood at the veranda watching his wife disappear through the barn door.
“She’s a witch Gabe,” his mother was chanting. “A witch, an evil witch, nothing but a life-sucking witch out for your money.”
Gabe turned around to look through the open French doors of his mother’s bedroom to see her dressed now. She stood near an end table, taking flowers out a vase, and putting them back in.
“She’s my wife. Please.”
“Whiney baby. Afraid of the wicked witch?” His mother’s words reached him about the same time he saw Umberto lead the mare and colt into the barn.
“She’s stayed with us. It hasn’t been easy,” he said.
“Easy? Concerned for her, are you? Do you feel any concern for me? The woman makes it clear she hates me.”
Gabe preferred his mother’s dementia to more clear moments. “She doesn’t hate you mother, she’s stressed. We’re all stressed.”
“Oh bullshit. She hates us. She may even hate herself.”
He glared at her. Her outrageous judgments reached new levels. He wanted to lift her by the neck, to fling her over the balcony, but just as suddenly as she had turned vile, she became an innocent child. She sat on the floor, spread the flowers out like a fan, and began to sing:
Did you ever see a lassie,
A lassie, a lassie?
Did you ever see a lassie,
Go this way and that?
Go this way and that way,
Go this way and that way.
Did you ever see a lassie,
Go this way and that?
Did you ever see a laddie,
A laddie, a laddie?
Did you ever see a laddie,
Go this way and that?
Go this way and that way,
Go this way and that way.
Did you ever see a laddie,
Go this way and that?
“Rosella, where are you?” Gabe called.
“Aqui Patron,” he heard from the hall.
“I need to attend to something in the barn. Look after mother.”
He approached the barn slowly, quietly. He stopped at the door, listening. He heard nothing, and cracking the door just enough, he slipped through. Something about finding his wife with another man was strangely exciting. She had been so cold for so long, to imagine her passionate made her desirable to him, as if he had come upon the unlocked mystery, and could slip into the role of husband as clandestinely as he had slipped into the barn.
Standing perfectly still in the shadows, he felt himself become hard, and his breathing deepen. He wanted to see them. He moved closer, drawn by the increasingly clear sounds. He could hear Umberto’s voice. Umberto had the key. If Gabe could not open the door, at least he would feel the excitement of looking within as another man opened it. When he saw them, she was holding the colt as he backed the mare into its stable. The animal movements transfixed him. He wanted the Mexican to ravish his wife, to bring her to delirium, then drain her, to purify her, to make her soft and human again. If this man could do that, he would pay him for the deed.
Moving unobserved, he stepped outside, and took a long breath. Why did he want to hide, when it was they who should feel shame? Where was he to go? After a few moments, his wife exited the barn.
“What are you doing here?”
“Looking for you.”
“Me and Chad are getting together, then heading over to Bible study.”
“When you getting back?”
“Late,” he said. Going to dinner. One of the guys has a birthday.”
“How late? Should I stay up for you?”
“Past midnight. You know how these things are. Let mother know.”
“You really think she’ll know the difference?”
He turned the ignition on the pick-up. He looked up to see his mother wave to him from her window. She was saying something he could not hear. She was nearly naked. Where was Rosella? He watched Jasmine walk back to the house. He followed the slow sway of her hips, as if she were modeling a new dress. When she was out of sight, he saw Rosella coax his mother from the window. He drove the truck the half-mile of dirt road leading to the highway. Several miles later, he turned onto an abandoned lumber mill road leading to a crest over the valley. It was three o’clock. He pulled a small wooden casket from beneath the seat, slid back the top, and removed a half pint of Jack Daniels. An hour or so later he pulled a second metal box from beneath the seat. Unlocking it, he opened its hinged lid. Inside, a Wesson revolver and ammunition clip.
He watched the ranch houses in the valley light up one by one, including his own place. It was a moonless night, with large empty pools of darkness separating the houses. Jasmine had never liked the isolation. Rosella must be home by now to cook and clean a few more hours for her own brood.
He loaded a country blues radio station. The night was bluish blade cold. He shivered. He turned on the heater, but it muffled the sound of the radio. He studied the Wesson a long while, as if he were holding it for the first time. Maybe an hour later, he pushed the clip into place in one move, a sharp coda to this thoughts. He needed to relieve himself. He put the gun on the seat beside him, and got out of the cab. The cold night air was clean and sharp as it drew it deeply into his lungs. He looked up into a cloudless night sky. He had not seen so many stars in a long time. His was dizzy. He went back to the truck, reached for the gun, and walked to the black edge of the mountain. His stomach churned. He dropped to his knees, and threw up. He curled up there on the ledge, and passed out, the gun at his side. He awoke feeling so cold that he convulsed. He stood in short unsteady efforts. It was still pitch black. He weaved back to the truck, and crawled inside. The engine was still running. He blasted the heater until he stopped shaking. Then he drove home without the gun.
He parked at the end of the road, and walked the rest of the way to the house. No lights. He let himself in as silently as he had entered the barn earlier in the day. He went to the downstairs bathroom. He wetted a towel to wipe down his face with cold water. He rinsed the sour taste from his mouth. He removed his clothes there, and tossed them into the laundry room. He moved like a burglar up the stairs to the master bedroom. With cat like care he navigated the darkness. He stepped inside his closet, found sweat pants, and slipped thick woolen socks over his feet. He wanted more than anything just to sink into the oblivion of sleep, and to feel his wife’s body heat beneath the heavy covers of their bed.
He could make out the contours of her body beneath the covers. It would not be easy. She was in the middle of the bed, with hardly enough room for him to slip in beside her. She did not stir, and he was grateful. He reached for the bedspread. It felt warm and sticky. Had she spilled something when falling asleep? He raised his hand closer to his eyes, and sniffed the residue on his fingers. It was too dark to see. He reached again, this time covering his fingers with whatever it was. Something was not right. He whispered her name, then called it out. When she did not answer, he turned on the bedside lamp, the blood from his hand staining the switch. He stepped away quickly and without thinking, whipped his hand along the sides of his pants. In the corner of the room, his mother sat watching him.
“I found her in bed with Rupert,” she said.
Posted by Frank Pray on 12/26/2014