Brooklyn: A Drama of Discernment

BrooklynOne of the hardest things in life is having two good choices that are completely exclusive of each other. It’s not a matter of picking a major in college, regretting it, and changing to another track; not a matter of taking a job at the wrong place and eventually finding your way to another one. Many choices—perhaps most choices—can be undone, however long and laborious the undoing.

But those decisions that are irreversible, unalterable, and unavoidable are the ones that cause the most anguish, especially when there’s much to recommend both of the alternatives (of course, at times we’re cursed with an array of good options, but for simplicity’s sake, we’ll keep it to two). In these dilemmas, we have an embarrassment of riches. The stakes are high: Pick one and lose the other forever.

Arguably, in this day and age, such dire consequences are less often the case than they used to be. What were historically lifelong commitments are now temporary engagements; wherever you are, you can get out pretty quickly. Affiliations, careers, and faiths are imminently interchangeable now.

Even marriage, which was once a permanent choice, has hardly the strength of a hair anymore, let alone a chain. You can divorce several times without stigma, though with somewhat more financial burden. And to our eternal shame, even children can be opted out of now, with the backing of a vast secular orthodoxy and the many huge industries that make a profit from it.

But that was not always so. There was a time when choosing meant you made a promise that honor and decency demanded you keep. In one of the loveliest movies to come along in a while, one of the loveliest characters to come along in an equally long while has to make such a choice—between two good things that she could never have predicted would present themselves. [Read more...]

The Erotic Powers of the Holy Spirit

4kiss1My thirteen-year-old son had seen the Viagra commercials for years, but never understood what they meant, until finally, he asked what Viagra is and does, and I told him. Now he has this new vocabulary that includes the phrase “erectile dysfunction,” and another galaxy of humorous opportunities has opened to him.

He begins to explore the ever-present sexual subtext that exists just beyond child-consciousness. Dear Lord, the sex is everywhere. How many people are having it, this very minute? How many conversations, looks, and touches are about it, even when the word is never mentioned?

Fortunately, he still has much to learn and a lifetime to learn it—or not—which is also maybe an option. There’s a fair chance he won’t pick up on certain realms of sexual metaphor unless someone points them out to him. I don’t know if beyond a certain age, such would be a privation or a precious innocence.

For my own part, sex is the non-sensual monument at the center of nearly everything I do and think and feel and pray. It was the last frontier between childhood and adult life, the primary benchmark between innocence and sin, the portal to motherhood and the ongoing cyclical shadow over my bodily liberty.

Sexuality is still a bit of a bog I wade through regarding every new acquaintance or friendship. And sexual temptations are probably the chief source of any humility I possess, the primary impetus for throwing myself on the mercy of God.

And then there is the flesh and blood doing of it—which, what can I say? It makes the cut. But it does require boundaries, especially since we’re Catholic, and we already have six kids, and you can deduce the rest. [Read more...]

How Much God Loves Us

By John Bryant
waterHe was born with cerebral palsy and he has it all the way up until he is completely underwater, when, he says, his whole body is pleasantly different, his limbs smooth and loose and elegant. I hold him under his arms in the pool and he can walk and tell me everything.

He takes three quick steps and can feel the surprise in the way I hold him, and his whole body shakes like a bird in your hand. I’ve never felt a whole body pulse with joy—all hair and fingers and toes—like he is still in the furnace of creation.

When he is done, we float him to the edge of the pool, and I leap out and dig under his arms and we lift him out into his great quivering weight and into the wind and the sun, and the length of his body contracts like a drop of water back into what is wrong. We lay him on his chair and towel, his great knobby knees and his furled, funny, complicated posture.

We push him in his wheelchair back to the cabin, wheels caught and muscling through gravel.  We feel him slip in his chair. We stop. My friend holds him at the knee, and I hold him from the back under the arms, and on three I lift him up to my chest, high as I can, up to the sun like an offering, then back into his appointed place.

I pause, take a step in front of him, just to see him. The sun is in his eyes. His face wide, flat, simple. I tell him we’re close and his spine curves out like a plant growing to the sun, leaving a hollow space between his back and the chair. I push him, tell him about my wife. He smiles, his head tilted at the crook in his neck, his eyes always turned up in reference to something coming up over the hill no one else can see. [Read more...]

Listening to Simone

By Christiana N. Peterson
lady-in-pewThe woman stands in the entryway of our common building just before Sunday worship begins. It’s not a sightly place, but it has every necessity for common intentional community life: a kitchen, a large meeting space, tables and chairs for worship and meals, a bathroom and a prayer room.

At first, the woman seems to fit right in with our unfussy crew: round spectacles, hair in a frizzy bob, a shapeless dress, oversized shoes. I immediately feel an affinity with her.

But I am also wary of her. Something tells me that she has intentionally obliterated anything outwardly lovely in her appearance. This both draws me in and annoys me.

Because I think I know her type. They come through intentional community sometimes: idealistic, stringent in their belief system, radically unusual in their dress. Community hoppers who bounce from church to church, intentional community to community, never satisfied with what they find and always criticizing. Not one of those again, I sigh. [Read more...]

Learning Detachment in the Attic

By Elizabeth Duffy

attic1When my cousin became a Dominican sister, she gave away all of her belongings. My sister and I were invited to come and shop in her closet and salvage any clothes we wanted before they went to charity. More valuable items she bequeathed to family members, and I was the lucky recipient of a pretty pair of lapis lazuli earrings, as well as a Honda Civic, which I, in turn, drove to Rhode Island to discern my own calling to join a religious community there.

Ultimately, I didn’t stay, but I met my husband’s sister there, and she set me up with the man I would marry less than a year after my return.

I never had it in me to give away all that I own, such a sad and rich young woman was I.

So little has changed.

My husband and I have just cleaned out our attic. Everything that was in there is now gone, so that we might begin the process of converting it into another bedroom for the kids, who now sleep stacked like sardines in the two bedrooms upstairs.

What became clear as we went through the piles is that, contrary to all my big talk about detachment and anti-materialism, I’m the packrat in the family.  I’m the one with fourteen Sterilite bins in the attic. [Read more...]


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