Paul Simon, The Voice of American Wandering, In Concert

Paul Simon played at Merriweather Post Pavilion last Friday with a full band, and I had the pleasure of seeing him and his opener Sarah MacLachlan, a singer I’ve seen twice, with my sister. Simon is a master and his presence fills the stage.

In his 70s, that legend of the 60s was swaying on stage, nodding and stretching out his arms, bobbing his wrist to simultaneously conduct the band. He led with his fingers and his chest like a much younger man.

The instruments: Mandolins, accordions, xylophones, trumpets and the staples: drums, a piano, and guitars. Some sea shells added sound too and a chime that looked like it was made out of spoons, although it surely wasn’t.

The crowd was mostly white, old and young. We sat and stood, bounced and bobbed, cheered and called.

He played my favorites: America, The Boxer, Graceland, Homeward Bound, Call me Al, many I did’t know and finally, alone on stage, The Sound of Silence–the classic that drew me into Simon and Garfunkle in my freshmen year of college.

There is no word for Paul Simon but master: he moves and commands attention with that easy grace of someone fully self-possessed, with the comfort that lacks self-consciousness and hesitance. His twirling wrist signaled the band and his hips moved with his guitar, whether it was acoustic or electric.

He carries that hard-won air of someone who has passed through the stages of craft and relationship:  1) being enamored with music, sound and fame–then 2) the ever-looming disillusionment at the pitfalls of an industry, fickle audiences and imperfect others, and then finally 3) to fully embrace the American musical scene as an institution and his role within it. To be a master, he didn’t abandon music or the audience, but took up his instruments and his listeners–the imperfections and all, and loved American folk music and its people, thereby lifting it–and us–to a higher level.

That’s what a true master does–he doesn’t abandon the imperfect world to seek a purified craft, but embraces the whole endeavor and so raises the water-level of the culture.

Paul Simon’s America

Simon’s music has wandered decades; he’s been and is the voice, the poet of America. His chords are the anthems of American folk music and the playlist of my dishwashing. The lyrics frequently touch on the peculiarities of the life of the poor. The Boxer for instance, tells the story of a young man gone out to seek his fortune;

“Laying low, seeking out the poorer quarters
Where the ragged people go
Looking for the places only they would know.”

Simon’s heritage, the New York Jew, the Yankees fan, the hippie all bring together strains of America that unite our disparate factions and allow us to remember and cherish the collective past, something our nation often seems to struggle with.

Somehow, we believe that we are a class-free society, that one person can strive and rise, bootstrap-style to upper echelons. We are cantankerous; hard work is its own reward; we welcome the stranger, but aren’t afraid to put up our fists when we have to.

Wandering

Yet we are also highly individualistic and have a sub-culture of roaming–whether for itself or transplanting for work. There is a roaming spirit in Simon’s music that I think speaks for America, for that impulse to strike out alone, to wander, to be pilgrims, in a way, never quite at home.

The wandering spirit pops up in other areas of culture; I think of Jack Kerouac, On the Road and The Dharma Bums. More recently, writer Mary Karr surfed as an idealistic young woman before heading to college after a terrifying encounter hitchhiking. The drive to get up and go, to seek, seems part of our cultural ethos, or maybe it’s just a strain that interests me.

There is nevertheless always a tension or a balance between wandering and stability. The ability to tramp around depends on the stability of most of society–otherwise whose trains would they jump onto? Whose fields would feed them? But the wandering impulse is also a check to a way of a life which has forgotten to wonder.

When I think of the wandering pilgrimage type of life I course cannot help but think of St. Francis and the medieval European pilgrims trailing about from place to place, Canterbury or St. Juan Compostela. We are pre-programmed to search, and that makes sense to  me. Though I live in my home-metropolis, I still search.

But back to Paul Simon: what he captures to me is that wandering spirit, of seeking, of longing, and in the American voice, the poor pilgrim always searching out home. To see him was an honor, a legend who set the water-mark.

Questions: Do I have it right? What do you think of Paul Simon? Is there someone else who also or instead epitomizes American music? Who is your favorite music artist? what does that person’s work mean to you?

The 1 Biggest Reason Nature Matters in our Spiritual Lives–from a Modern Point of View

 

iStock_000057827554_MediumBeing outside is one of the great pleasures in life, particularly in good weather. I love pulling weeds, planting seeds, pushing the kids around for a walk or run and even the occasional hike; (see my picture of Skellig Michael in Ireland above).

But I don’t consider the “why,” very often, as I do with a lot of other things.

This short article really hit-home for me about some of the reasons being outside feels so good and is so good for us.

“God created humans in the wild and placed us in a garden. We’re meant to live a substantial portion of our lives outdoors—and it’s a unique place to experience our Creator and restore our spirits.” – Michael Hyatt

In a sense, this is so obvious, and yet we don’t hear it enough. Our love for natural boils down to a simply, basic spiritual reality.

Great saints have said similar things, “The Heavens are singing the glory of God” -St. Francis.

Hyatt ‘s blog connects it with business and personal development, which is nice in this case because sometimes it helps to hear things in a contemporary context. And he has research and studies about how being in or even just seeing nature aids your mind, concentration, sleep habits, physical fitness and also spiritual life.  Continue reading

Catholic Theologian Takes Own Life. My essay from T&C

man-1394395_640-300x199My latest from the Truth and Charity Forum: Mourning Stephen Webb.

Depression and faith have a complicated relationship.

Original posted here. 

“I mourn for Stephen Webb even though I did not know him personally. His work in First Things, particularly, “Saving Punishment,” affected me deeply. He was also brave enough to write about Christians and depression, and still, it claimed his life. As a people who exalt life, I can only hope that we can exalt his life and offer consolation to others because our faith has seen depression and suffering and there can be light on the other side of darkness.”

“Mental illness is full of contradictions and difficulties, and no one is immune. It’s not something we like to talk about because it can be embarrassing for a faith tradition that promises hope. Webb even commented that, “church leaders and theologians talk so little of this befuddling malady.” Deep friends are sometimes able to venture into these murky waters. And pray we do and do it often because no one needs to feel ashamed of depressive thoughts”
Continue reading

2 Posts on Pope Francis’s Amoris Laetitia

Pope FrancisThese reflections of mine originally appeared on the Truth and Charity Forum of HLI

Amoris Laetitia: Pope Francis’s The Joy of Love

It is indeed nuanced, full of Pope Francis’s back and forth style as he shows sympathy for difficult situations in between tackling erroneous viewpoints. Like Christ with the woman caught in adultery, Francis counsels concern and care for sinners rather than simple condemnation, while still holding onto the reality of sin. Anything so thoughtfully balanced is bound to confuse or unsettle some people in a culture accustomed to accusations and polarization….

“In such difficult situations of need, the Church must be particularly concerned to offer understanding, comfort and acceptance, rather than imposing straightaway a set of rules that only lead people to feel judged and abandoned by the very Mother called to show them God’s mercy. Rather than offering the healing power of grace and the light of the Gospel message, some would ‘indoctrinate’ that message, turning it into ‘dead stones to be hurled at others.’ (AL 49)”

While it is manifest that conception occurred illicitly, children conceived out of wedlock are not uncommon, and we do not know the situation of willingness of either of the two participants. What Pope Francis is saying is that little good is achieved by shunning such a woman. Her situation is trialsome enough. It is precisely such a person who needs a place of welcome, not a bunch of judgemental scowls.

Amoris Laetitia: Pope Francis’s The Joy of Love

Reading with the Heart of the Church: Contents of Amoris Laetitia

The much hyped question is that of Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried. And the answer isn’t the clear “yes,” that many media releases want it to be. This question is honestly a footnote to the wider discussion of family life, and a careful reading in continuity with Church teaching, reveals that there isn’t any change in canon law, or the Church’s codes for proper liturgical and sacramental observance. …

Canon Lawyer Edward Peters had this to say on his blog about those who “think that AL fn. 351 and its accompanying text authorize holy Communion for Catholics in irregular marriages.” He states that Francis never does this. The Pope does say that:

Catholics in irregular unions need the help of the sacraments (which of course they do), but he does not say ALL of the sacraments, and especially, not sacraments for which they are ineligible. He says that the confessional is not a ‘torture chamber’ (a trite remark but not an erroneous one). And he observes that the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect (thank God), but a powerful spiritual medicine, which it is—unless it is taken unworthily or in violation of law, a caveat one may assume all Catholics, and certainly popes, know without having to say it.

Peters reads Amoris Laetitia in continuity with Catholic teaching, that all that is accepted about reception of the Eucharist still stands, which of course is the only reasonable way to read a papal document.

Reading with the Heart of the Church: Contents of Amoris Laetitia

Did you hear about Amoris Laetitia? Did it seem controversial to you? I have read some good thoughts on both sides.

Prez. Candidates: When it comes to the environment, life matters too

[This article appeared originally on the Truth and Charity Forum]

“So as we approach the election, we must keep these two paradoxical principles in regard to the environment in our minds: that it has intrinsic worth as God’s creation and that it has worth as it serves humanity and offers us the basic survivals of our life.

Pope Francis sees a profound unity within Creation that is both the work of God that gives him glory and the domain of man which provides us our sustenance. Francis notes that, “Pope Benedict asked us to recognize that the natural environment has been gravely damaged by our irresponsible behaviour,” and also that human lives have suffered because of that, since humans and natural world are an interrelated whole. He continues that, “Both are ultimately due to the same evil: the notion that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives, and hence human freedom is limitless” (LS 6).

Thus, because there is truth, because reality and the earth are real, we have duties to the earth and to each other. We have to live in accord with the inherent goodness of the earth, the biblical commandment that we steward it, and the biological realities that govern both. One key biological reality that Francis mentioned was “sexuality and the family.” He asks us to remember that at a very basic level, we are created male and female and we are born into families. In ignoring the natural world, we have come to ignore these social truths.

Approaching the election, let’s briefly look at the parties and how they stand on the environment. In my opinion, no candidate offers a truly Catholic platform, though some are preferable to others.

True to form, the Democratic candidates place a bigger emphasis on the environment, mentioning climate change and investing in new, clean energy sources such as electric and solar…”

“The importance of human life, even within the environmental issues, is paramount. Catholics and Christians in general are frequently criticized for voting exclusively on “social issues” like abortion and gay marriage and ignoring other facets of human life. And this criticism is widely true: we do vote on the life issue, but it is not to ignore other important realities. On the contrary, all aspects of human life and the common good are built on a fundamental understanding of the goodness of life and when it starts. The Catholic Church’s teaching is highly reasonable: that life starts from the moment the body comes into existence, which is conception. Without respect for life and where it comes from, there can be no true respect of any other human good. And if we are placing the environment in opposition to humanity instead of integrating the two, there is a problem.”

Full article here.

Question: what is most important to you when voting? Particular issues, if so, then what? Or the candidates themselves and their personal integrity?

 

My DC Pilgrimage for Pope Francis’s Year of Mercy

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The National Basilica in Washington DC

In September 2015, Pope Francis announced that 2016 would be a Jubilee Year of Mercy. This is a special year because the next scheduled Jubilee Year is 2025 so it is very early. This is essentially the Pope’s theme for a year and wherein he also offers a jubilee indulgence. I am excited because there is an opportunity for pilgrimage, details at the end of this post.

Pope Francis said:

“I entrust the organization of this Jubilee to the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, in order that it may come to life as a new step on the Church’s journey in her mission to bring the Gospel of mercy to each person.
I am confident that the whole Church, which is in such need of mercy for we are sinners, will be able to find in this Jubilee the joy of rediscovering and rendering fruitful God’s mercy, with which we are all called to give comfort to every man and every woman of our time. Do not forget that God forgives all, and God forgives always. Let us never tire of asking forgiveness. Let us henceforth entrust this Year to the Mother of Mercy, that she turn her gaze upon us and watch over our journey: our penitential journey, our year-long journey with an open heart, to receive the indulgence of God, to receive the mercy of God.” (Announcement by Pope Francis, Vigil of the Fourth Sunday of Lent, 14 March, 2015)

I am excited about this because I have recently come to see some things about myself in a new, most honest light. The timing of this Year of Mercy couldn’t be better.

I think it’s very easy for the Church to seem scary, like a house full of rules, judging eyes and hypocrisy. But that’s not the point at all! If it is, we are no better than the pharisees whom Jesus criticized in his own time.

Pope Francis said the Church is a field-hospital for sinners; Jesus said, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:31-32).” And truly, if our vision is clear, we are all sinners.

The rules of the Church are meant to guide us in a healthy, happy life. They are not meant to condemn us for imperfection. Thisdifference is the entire message of Jesus in the Gospels.

Pope Francis’s Year of Mercy is helping to make that clear, in case it had perhaps become shadowed. He is making opportunities for we the faithful and also, for non-Catholics, so that hopefully the Church will be revealed as less intimidating and as more profoundly merciful and loving, and therefore more approachable. We believe that the Gospel is for everyone, that it is good news for all people. Let us show that it is truly good news by showing what He has done for us!

Here are some ways to celebrate!

  1. Go to Confession; receive God’s forgiveness.
  2. Check out the Year of Mercy events in your local parish or diocese.
  3. Perform the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy
    1. Corporal Works: Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, comfort the sick, visit the imprisoned, bury the dead.
    2. Spiritual works: counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish the sinner, comfort the afflicted, forgive offenses, bear patiently those who do us ill, pray for the living and the dead
  4. Make a pilgrimage to a Door of Mercy!
    1. This is a unique and cool opportunity; there are Doors of Mercy this year at most cathedrals and major churches. All you have to do is visit a Door of Mercy and pass through it. (Confession and Mass recommended beforehand).
    2.  Pope Francis said, “The practice of pilgrimage has a special place in the Holy Year, because it represents the journey each of us makes in this life. Life itself is a pilgrimage, and the human being is a viator, a pilgrim traveling along the road, making his way to the desired destination. “
    3. The image of pilgrimage is especially meaningful to me because of how inspiring I found the stories of Christian pilgrims through out the years and because of my own efforts at making a modern pilgrimage and experiences thereon. Nothing quite captures my view of the faith and my love of the Middle Ages in one neat swoop.

So I’ll be making a pilgrimage to the National Basilica in Washington DC when the weather warms up. Date to be decided, but all friends are invited.

 

 

 

2016: Welcome Waterways and other Themes

In 2015, I picked a theme for the year instead of resolutions. For us, it was Farm Year: we planted a vegetable garden, learned about tractors, plows and combines, visited farms, learned about farm animals, sang Old MacDonald had a farm, read books about farms and animals, talked about where our food came from.

Farm year wasn’t remotely stressful; it just provided inspiration for activities. Since it was such a success, I’ve decided on a new theme for 2016.

Waterways.

We will learn about and visit streams, lakes, rivers, ponds and the ocean. We will learn about the animals that live in them and the vessels that travel atop or within them. Connecting it to farm year, we will talk about irrigation and the importance of water for food production and human life.

I don’t expect my one year old and three year old to fully absorb all this, as I am still absorbing it myself, but it is part of their foundation.

I like the themes concept. It has proven more transformative and less stressful than “resolutions,” which just seem like one more thing on the to-do list.

What else for me in 2016?

  1. Keep writing; keep the articles coming, and post at least one blog post per week.
  2. Finish first draft of a longer project
  3. At least 5 minutes of Scripture or spiritual reading per day
  4. Participate in Pope Francis’s Jubilee Year of Mercy by making a pilgrimage (albeit a small one) to the National Basilica in Washington DC (more info on this to come)
  5. Focus on kindness and generosity especially with my husband and children and in general
  6. Run my home more like a monastery or try to. Read The Rule of St. Benedict

Whelp, there are more detailed things that I have in mind, but those are the basics.

What are you thinking for this year? Did you make any themes or resolutions?