Alleluia for the Easter Season

I used to find Easter a letdown. Lent is so full of the self-improvement activities of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. I typically add a midday prayer to my usual Morning and Evening Prayer. I decide what organizations I want to give alms to: a different one each week of Lent. And fasting: not from food (my health doesn’t allow for that), but from something I feel is keeping me from closeness to God. The past few years it has been fasting from judging others (or trying to).

Then comes Easter. The first week is always a joy, reading about Jesus’s various post-resurrection appearances to his disciples. But in my Catholic faith, the Easter season continues way beyond this: for a full fifty days, until Pentecost. Catholic practice doesn’t instruct me to do anything special during these fifty days. So instead of the fullness of God’s grace, I’ve felt this season to be an empty repetition of “Christ has risen.”

Until this year. I don’t know why… but this year, each day of the prolonged Easter season has filled me with grateful wonder. The Scripture selections in The Liturgy of the Hours, which I pray from, feel richly full. Each week there are passages from Romans:

The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is the word of faith which we preach) (10:8).

If we have died with Christ, we believe that we are also to live with him (6:8).

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, then he who raised Jesus from the dead will bring your mortal bodies to life also, through his Spirit dwelling in you (8:11).

Both in life and death we are the Lord’s (14:8). [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “The Last Supper”

photo of Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper. A long white table sits in a large, well lit hall. In the center of the table, Jesus stands, leaning over the table. Around him crowd his disciples, spread and talking amongst each other.This poem is a meditation on Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting, “The Last Supper.” But the meditation moves in an unexpected direction. The first stanza stays with the painting, though with a comical interpretation of “torn bread” scattered on the tablecloth. In stanza two, the poet moves to the wine—“or seeming / lack of it.” In the painting, no chalice is visible—nothing “bigger than a shot glass.” It’s from this image of a shot glass that the poem’s speaker takes off in stanza three. He seems to be pondering its meaning, as he twice says “that makes sense.” What makes sense now to the speaker is that a single shot of liquor suffices: it reveals “the power” that a bartender serves (as Jesus serves God?); it is sufficient for lingering camaraderie. From here, the speaker reflects on other smallnesses that are sufficient in life: “Only a heartbeat /of belief is necessary.” And “by small increments we learn to taste.” To taste what? The poem doesn’t say, but in the context of the de Vinci painting, I recall a song that we often sing during Communion in my Catholic parish: “Taste and See the Goodness of the Lord.”

—Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “Afternoon Swim”

green and blue water in some kind of reservoir, surrounded by dark sides. the water is lit up by the reflection of trees. The play of grammar has always lured me. I’ve wondered: why do English sentences take the shape they do? So when I reached line 4 of Lance Larsen’s “Afternoon Swim”—with its bold announcement that he was switching from second person to first—I was hooked. Play with grammar is this poem’s medium. I laughed out loud at the course of Larsen’s sentence about another sentence: “a sentence in a Victorian novel fallen against the belly // of a pregnant somebody dozing on shore, turning now / to devour a delicious direct object.” Yet soon—surprise!—the direct object being devoured is the loaves that Christ multiplied, and the poem’s play turns theological as well as grammatical. And metaphysical, too, by the poem’s end, as it moves into pondering why words have the meanings they do—and how our very self is constructed.

—Peggy Rosenthal [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…]

Sitting Together: A Week at the Glen Workshop

14066373_10206865453981792_9089818213749029625_oI’m an introvert who loves to talk, an often confusing combination that can leave me drained in spite of myself, or perplex my friends when I suddenly slink off after an hour of raucous guffawing.

But I just spent a week in Santa Fe at the Glen Workshop, a gathering of writers, artists, and musicians who meet at St. John’s College every summer to hone their craft, eat and worship together, and listen to some of the world’s most inspiring creative people share their work. And it was there that I experienced several moments of healing and energizing silence.

Coming of age in evangelicalism, I heard Jesus’s words, “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them,” quite a bit. But those words often evoked images of Bible studies, group prayer, worship services, or other intentional, structured activities designed to move me from point A to point B on the spiritual growth chart.

It never occurred to me then, that sometimes just sitting together can fill us with the Holy Spirit more than a flashy program. [Read more…]