Saying Yes to the Annunciation

annunciazione-by-fabrizio-boschi-on-wikimediaOf all the Gospel episodes, the Annunciation has long been one of the favorites of poets. The scene is unique and literally earth-shaking: Gabriel’s sudden appearance to the girl Mary, his announcement that she will bear a son who will be “the Son of the Most High,” her puzzlement (“How can this be, since I am a virgin?”), and her final yes—“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.” [Read more…]

Stiff Necked Church Lady

red-pews-by-charles-clegg-on-flickrChurch Ladies.  Most of them are pretty darn good souls. They’re at the church every day, bent over pews, cleaning the sanctuary, baking pies, and keeping all the committees peopled. They’re also gorgeously individual souls with their own private concerns, loves, and extracurricular interests.

But everyone’s probably known at least one church lady like the iconic Church Lady rendered by Dana Carvey on Saturday Night Live: easily scandalized and convinced that even benign things are the property of Satan.

I’ve been that Church Lady. [Read more…]

Divine Infection

night-landscape-by-stanze-on-flickrI once took modern dance technique classes with an instructor who asked the dancers to stand in a two parallel lines, facing each other; one line of tired bodies with eyes shut, the other line observant. While our eyes were closed, he asked us to make all of our bodies’ thirty-seven trillion cells seen.

It’s a meditation exercise, a mode of entering the darkness inside ourselves, though I imagined redness—sanguine and illuminated. When we finished and sought our partner across the space, the force of eye contact—the seeing and being seen of thirty-seven trillion entities—was like an electrical shock.

I don’t know what forges strange connections between people. I know that there are many things you can’t look up in a book but have to learn instead through geography. Though we have thirty-seven trillion cells, we don’t really know that much about them, and we’re especially ignorant of how cells function within their membranous outer shells.

Scientists recently announced a project to map cells individually, to learn by collecting and watching. So much of what’s known about them is based on how they behave as a group; so much has been found to be wrong. [Read more…]

Traveling Through These Days of Awe

Rick Chess photoI’m in a plane ascending to 37,000 feet.

How restless have I been this year? How easily distractible?

Already on this flight, from the time of boarding the plane until now, I’ve jumped from e-mail to Facebook to FiveThirtyEight to Jane Hirshfield on Basho to Mishkan Hanefesh, Sanctuary of the Soul, the Reform movement’s new high holiday prayer book. Already I’ve skipped from skimming to sinking to expanding to avoiding: I don’t want to look at that e-mail right now. It can wait.

We boarded at around 4 p.m. and maybe it’s around 4:50 p.m. now, and in that brief span of time I’ve registered for a free online course on The Science of Meditation, knowing full well that next week, when the webinar is live, I will have no time to participate but I must participate because I just offered to teach on my own “The Art and Science of Meditation,” a course that I’ve taught with three other colleagues, including a neuroscientist, for the past two spring semesters, and I am going to need all the help I can get with the science part of the course this spring. [Read more…]

Parting the Veil

edited abstract dark by Jim Lukach on flickrThe light on the ceiling of our bedroom is slanted in a parody of the open doorway, letting in the blue glow of a nightlight from the hall. This nightly and usually innocuous shape hides something in the darkness tonight; I see it creeping in the light box, plotting something against me, about to attack.

Nightmares, night paralysis, and obsessive fears are not new to me. They have been part of my life since I was three and my mom took me to a psychologist because I wouldn’t leave her side, not even to go to the bathroom at home.

When I was eight and still unwilling to let my mom leave me alone in my room at bedtime, my mom, in an act of desperation, performed a sort of exorcism on the closet door that held the faces of dark monsters and demons in the grains of wood.

In order to fend off those terrors of demons and monsters in my late teens and twenties, I took comfort in a less mysterious Christianity. I went to grad school, I studied theology, I became skeptical of great religious emotion. I thought I could plaster away my sensitivities and obsessive thoughts behind a wall of intellectual belief. And it worked for a while.

But my pretense of intellectual faith and skepticism of religious experience didn’t last. [Read more…]