Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Come sit with me

Picnic snack. Tara Faul/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

"Is it the doorbell ringing? Quick, open the door! It's God coming to love us. Is someone asking us to do something? Here you are! ... It's God coming to love us. Is it time to sit down for lunch? Let's go -- it's God coming to love us.

Let's let him."

-- Madeleine DelbrĂȘl

What if all God is saying to me is, "Come sit with me. Sit down. Just sit." And all the while God pats the picnic blanket, lays out a snack, picks off the stray piece of grass, readies the spot meant for me alone on the brightly checked cloth. The lure is strong. Sun-warmed and soft, it beckons me. But I am not ready to sit. Or rather, I am not willing.

God's sincere request -- "come sit with me!" -- is not difficult to heed, but sometimes feels impossible to fulfill. How can I sit when I have goals to pursue and tasks to complete, when I have human relationships that require attention and care? Why should I sit on a blanket with a God who is everywhere, around me and within me, just to partake of a snack when I could instead expend energy to act on God's word? Surely I know what God wants of me. Surely God wants me just to "do it," whatever I perceive "it" to be.

In my mind, to sit is to surrender, and not in the meaningful spiritual way. It signals rest where I see no room for rest, and quiet where I do not wish to listen. If I sit with God, I must BE with God. Not that being with God requires small talk or logistics. We're not at a cocktail party. It merely requires I show up. But showing up does mean relinquishing something else -- like fun. Or ego. Or control.

No wonder I continue to decline God's invitation.

Yet God keeps asking and patting and putting out snacks anyway. How miraculous that the blanket never scratches and the food never stales. How wondrous that the request never changes: "Come sit with me. Sit down. Just sit." A simple act with profound results, if only I accept.

Prayer #322: Picnic

One day, God, I'm certain you'll tire of following me around with your re-folded blanket and your picked-up shoes and the basket full of goodies that I never help you lighten. One day you will notice that the sun has set, or the food has molded, or the park where you've been pursuing me has been bulldozed to make way for a housing development, and you'll shrug your divine shoulders and think, "Better luck with the next one" before you head home to put up your feet.

No one can keep up a pursuit this long, especially when there's no reciprocation.

This is how I escape you, right God? I'll pretend I don't see or hear you. I'll pretend you're incapable of loving me. I'll pretend you're pretending, too, but only I will be none the wiser.


Saturday, February 17, 2018

And just like that, a decade

Strike 10. xtfer/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Yesterday I exited the Metro turnstile at Ballston and went back in time. With stunning clarity the 8.5 years of this exact motion appeared in aggregate before me. I was 24. I was returning from work in Dupont Circle. I was walking home to my rented townhouse.

But none of this was true. I, aged 34, was getting off at Ballston so my husband could pick me up in our car and we could head to our church in South Arlington for a Mardi Gras pancake dinner. After that we'd return to our single family home one metro stop farther (with a stop at the grocery store first), where we'd complete a couple chores, have tea, and settle into bed.

Ballston doesn't look the same anymore, and neither do I. The gas station behind the old townhome is gone, replaced by a huge apartment complex that obscures the familiar bricks that used to greet me every evening. Three new people inhabit the space where I poured my heart into many festivities, tears, and routines. The surrounding area has morphed too; the mall is ravaged, buildings are new or emptied, restaurants have come and gone, and with them all my sense of place, the halo of my wide-eyed youth.

Don't get me wrong, Ballston's general 1980s-era architectural aesthetic remains intact, but I view it with different, older eyes. I now live in the settled 'burbs by comparison, where houses are homes grown organically across the decades. My neighborhood has lawns and shrubbery, a host of tasteful additions. I can no longer walk to the grocery store. We have not only a driveway, but a car. We have not only a yard, but a garden. And all this with a spouse.

Yes, circumstances certainly have changed since February 3, 2008, when I first moved to Arlington. As I wrote at my one-year DC anniversary:

I'm overwhelmed by excitement. And loss. And a profound sense of growing stronger, growing smarter, growing up.

At my second I wrote:

I mark milestones mainly because they're a socially sanctioned form of navel-gazing, much like blogging or karaoke. They compress all your major victories, minor frustrations, and regular chores into one convenient timeframe, and push all the trends you missed (or chose to ignore) to the surface.

At my third:

At this rate, I'll be published in 2052. If I'm lucky. But who cares?? I'm having a ball and loving that I'm a writer who's actually writing. Finally.

And at my fourth:

... this time around I'm older and wiser. I know that peripheral vision doesn't deliver the full picture. I also know I'm made of tough enough stuff that I can look the oncoming year straight in the eye and say, "I have scant idea what you're bringing, but bring it anyway." And I know that I'll mean it.

I didn't write any more DC anniversary posts after that. A shame, because boy, did a lot change in the intervening years. I broke off a long-term relationship, I lost two grandparents, I dated, I earned a graduate degree, I fell in love with Nature Boy, I progressed in my career, I traveled to many new places, I changed parishes, I moved, I married Nature Boy, I got published, I witnessed a change in administration (a very DC thing to say, I know), I got published some more, I became more involved in social justice, I kept writing and blogging ...

Through it all, I dreamed. I hoped and cried and wondered. Set new goals, reached them, set some more. Checked out heaps of books from the library. Learned new board games. Acquired a few cookbooks. And acknowledged on February 3, 2018 that I am legitimately an adult in her mid-thirties, a citizen who has called a place home for ten years, a person who has put down deep roots as the river swirls around her.

I am still me, though. The words that marked my milestones from 2009-2012 resonate with me today. I recognize her, this growing girl-to-woman who wrote with increasing steeliness. In her voice I hear the frequencies of curiosity and confidence, worry and optimism, stubbornness and laughter that carried her to where she sits today, and that will carry her for decades to come (which is good, because her back is starting to hurt more).

Best of all, I have hung pictures at our new house in less than two years. If that's not a sign of maturity and wisdom, I don't know what is.

Prayer #321: Count to 10

1, 2, 3, ... I tick the numbers off my fingers, off my toes, off the Rosary beads and Commandments, this magical, mystical, whole number that ends one cycle and starts another.

4, 5, 6, ... I read you are the number of heaven, the number of "the world and universal creation." You require two numbers to complete you; all other fundamental numbers roll up to you.

7, 8, 9, ... Strike, dime, after, pole, hang, top, lords a-leaping. Your ordinary invocations belie your significance. You are complete and perfect, just as you are. Transitions are chaotic (and indeed, what is life but one endless transition), but you are the anchoring hinge.

10 ... On you I rest. On you I turn. On you I begin again.


Monday, January 22, 2018

Ignoring the summons

Poised at the peephole. ashleybuxo/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Why do I trust God the least?

God the almighty. God the powerful. God the merciful. God the number-of-other-adjectives-that-mirror-the-Wizard-of-Oz. All the qualities God has, all the spirit God breathes in me, and yet I do not give my trust. The one entity in the universe who can help me first is the one I reach out to last.

I can answer my own question, of course. As a friend recently said in our small faith group (to clarify: the group is small, though perhaps so is my faith), "I'm frightened of what I might be called to."

Jesus has come to the seashore, he has asked me to cast aside my nets, and I am flat-out ignoring him. Because I know what I'm called to right now. God/Son/Spirit are urging me to march. To call my representatives. To register people to vote. To connect with new ministries at church. Essentially, to push beyond my comfortable limits and draw closer to the "other" in order to banish the idea of "otherness" altogether.

Dianna Ortiz, the American Ursuline nun who survived brutal torture at the hands of our own government in 1989 and went on to found TASSC, laments the "parade of apathy, deaf to God's insistent call." In her view, apathy is "the shroud of unprincipled darkness which is a failure to live out the Gospel." No word-mincing here. To nurture apathy -- the freedom from, or insensibility to, suffering -- is not merely to rebuff God's call; it is to deny it.

While I do feel sensitive and sensible to suffering, I also enjoy a certain freedom from it thanks to the blind, dumb luck of the safe, healthy, warm, dry, well-off, educated hand I was dealt. As I see it, my Gospel-mandated responsibility is to relinquish that freedom and build a home in suffering. Again, though, in the words of my wise friend: "I know what I need to do. It's the doing that's hard."

To look at it from the (much) less hesitant, (much) more proactive view of Irish priest and radical activist Fr. Philip Berrigan, "hope is where your ass is." So where is my ass these days? Where have I put my literal skin in the cosmic game? When I can answer that question not perfectly, but at all, I will know I have taken a stronger step toward God's call.

Right now, I am a house-bound old lady nervous of any knock at her door. But the louder the knocking grows, and the longer it continues with no need for rest, the more I must acknowledge it demands my attention. As of today, I have made it to the peephole. My hand is poised over the deadbolt. When I will trust God enough to unlock it?

Prayer #320: To Live as an Open Wound

To live the Gospel is to live as an open wound -- raw, gushing, muscle torn and bone exposed. No tourniquet can staunch it. No bandage can bind it. For faith is weapon and treatment both, a battle cry and lullaby, a charge and a destiny. The wound is Love; its cure, the same.


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

To wait or to watch

We can only see where we shine the light. jnd_photography/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

To wait is to stare at a loading symbol on your laptop.
To watch is to observe your still hand awaiting inspiration.

To wait is to tap your toes and drum your fingers.
To watch is to realize how they mirror your heartbeat.

To wait is to stand by the microwave as your lunch heats.
To watch is to consider the alchemy of ingredients and preparation.

To wait is to mark the darkening sky from the warm indoors.
To watch is to venture outside and crane your neck to the stars.

To wait is to cross out days on your calendar.
To watch is to look back at a year, a decade, a life, and discover its arc.

To wait is to note what is happening.
To watch is to learn what is.

To wait is to solve by avoiding.
To watch is to address by encountering.

To wait is to welcome impatience.
To watch is to invite patience.

To wait is to prepare your mind.
To watch is to prepare your heart.

To wait is to hesitate.
To watch is to embrace.

Prayer #319: A Waiting Advent, or Awaiting Advent?

Imagine you are driving at night. Imagine you are moving slowly on a winding, pitch-black mountain road. You are waiting for the next bend, and (for obvious, scary, car-crunching reasons) you do not want to miss it.

See the headlights casting their glow in front of you.* You are watching the headlights. They illuminate three feet ahead of you -- nothing further, nothing behind. All you have to get you through the trip on are these lights, and your slowness, and your watching.

Advent is a season to practice watching, the kind that consumes your whole body and spirit. Without it you will not catch the star brighten. Without it you will not glimpse the couple running in the night. Without it you will not hear an infant wail across the sand. Without it you will not know God.

God of the realm beyond the headlights, keep watch with me -- today, tonight, and always.


* With thanks to E.L. Doctorow for the image.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Life is a process of editing

The author's depiction of her family, drawn at age 6 or 7.

My parents are downsizing. Which means I'm upsizing -- that is, re-inheriting all the mementos I thought fit to store over 24 years of living in their house. And for a sentimental person who also believes that a future biographer will want to review every artifact of her formative years, the process is excruciating.

How excruciating? On my most recent visit home, I spent four hours getting six memory boxes down to three, not including the rolling cabinet of extra photo prints or the box with my American Girl doll paraphernalia. I was covered with dust, peeling cardboard, and disintegrated rubber bands. I discovered items I'd never seen (my baptism candle), items I'd forgotten (all my high school handbooks), and items I knew were there but were unsure I wanted to see again (love -- and a couple hate -- letters from old flames).

Some people claim to feel lighter after purging. I experience pits in my stomach. What if I need that later?! I think. Or worse: What if I forget everything that once mattered?

But so what if I do? What mattered then doesn't always matter now. (See: handbooks. Also: old love letters.) What struck me most in looking at 2.5 decades' of memories was how many of the people writing me when I was 1, 10, 18, 20 are still in my life, still sending me notes, still loving me.

Also incredible: how what I wrote -- and what was written about me -- reflects my enduring fundamentals. Take the letters written by my third-grade classmates from Springfield Elementary, where I attended for six months before moving again. They said that I was nice to them on the playground, that I never got in trouble, that I told funny stories. (One said she liked how I "made the hamster talk," a clear indication that if nothing else, our senses of humor are established early.) I am who I am, for better or worse, and keeping boxes packed with greeting cards, textbooks, and old worksheets in my basement is not going to change that one way or another.

This is a process, of course. I know intellectually that I have plenty of items yet to cull, and one day I will summon the emotional courage to detach from and discard even more. What will make it easier is the dawning wisdom that only my ego, not my true self, wants these items. Where my ego requires validation of a good life well lived, my true self is focusing on living that good life well right now so that when I pass from this earth, context-less papers will not be my legacy, but rather, the love I experienced and expressed.

A full life, I've realized, requires editing. Not rewriting or recasting my story, but paring it down to its most powerful essentials. The more I edit and excise the past, the freer I am to write the present and enjoy the narrative as it unfolds.

I'm always going to keep my journals, though.

Prayer #318: Rightsized

If you shrunk my life to a room, what would I keep?

If you shrunk my life to a closet, what would I keep?

If you shrunk my life to a trunk, what would I keep?

If you shrunk my life to a shoebox, what would I keep?

I would keep gratitude for the container. Appreciation for what's discarded. Rejoicing for the items retained. And love -- love enough to fill a house, a state, a world -- love for the universe in which You've placed me, one object in a huge container, adored not for my size or my meaning, but for the sheer fact of my creation.


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

I ask the waves

A post shared by Julia Rocchi (@jmrocchi) on

Island waves come from far and arrive with a vengeance, infuriated by the land mass crouching in their mighty path. Unlike staid Atlantic rolls, they boom and hiss, wild with spume. I watch them crash, crash, crash, and I tremble at the fact that while they beat ceaselessly in the regenerating present, I spend my days preoccupied by past and future.

Here at the foot of the waves, geologic time overwhelms me. These forces neither know nor heed my human timestamp. In their world change comes with microscopic precision on an epic scale, while in my world change feels epic but with ultimately microscopic significance. Our scales collide in this moment on the sand. I cannot comprehend the crashing, and the ocean cannot comprehend my caring.

I ask the waves: Am I insignificant? Or is your wondrous, fearful machination intended for witness? Is my standing here with sandy feet and salty curls the reason for my being -- to see, to absorb, to gape with awe? And if that is the case, how does my individual wonder heighten these elements that continue with or without me?

I tell the waves: While I've been resting on this minuscule island, two friends have lost loved ones -- one a father, the other a son. What do these men's short lives, ripe with joy, rife with pain, mean against the unstoppable tides? Where is our significance in the face of tumultuous eons?

The waves rumble, but not in response. They have all the time in the world, yet no time for me. I am a blink, a speck in their teeming currents. I will always remember their breathtaking rush toward my bare feet, and they will never know I was here. They don't know my scope; they only put it in perspective.

I repeat to myself: I am here. I am here. I am here. I am. I am. I am. And so it is, if only for a breath.

Prayer #317: Undulate

Undo me, rushing God. Invest me with a wave's own form: simple to sketch in abstract, impossible to capture in infinite variations across time and space. As I fall with You, so I will rise -- soaked in mystery.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Time for a brain cleanse

Na Pali, Kauai. paul bica/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Time for a brain cleanse. A wipe, a reboot. Time to put away Facebook and Twitter, Instagram and text. Time to discard the list of lists that has been building since the start of the year. Time to reject the rejection letters piling up against my confidence. Time to ignore the emails flagged for never-realized follow-ups; time to relish writing the out-of-office message instead. Time to delight in the anticipation (and fulfillment) of the seven new books checked out from the library. Time to sit with my new prayer journal ... in silence. Time to make overdue phone calls, not because they are to-do list items, but because my life is a little too quiet without certain voices swirling. Time to remember life is not a chore to be completed. Time to nap. Time to escape the self-doubt and variable confidence, the constant desire to never make a mistake. Time to snorkel to bend my perspective. Time to enjoy time with my spouse, just the two of us, no plans or obligations or calendar appointments. Time to soak in the thrill of discovery instead of the security of planning. Time to watch crappy movies on a plane. Time to reacquaint myself with the sea. Time to feel the black gel pen flow across college-ruled lines while my slow-as-death laptop sits 4,690 miles away. Time to prioritize a sunrise. Time to banish guilt over my deep desire to sit still. Time to turn my back on "regular" life so I can regain the spark that makes it anything but. Time to find a coconut. Time to learn how to cut it.

Prayer #316: Clean Slate

I once asked You make me a blackboard wiped clean, with sponge marks still drying, but my choice of image was shortsighted. Why stop at chalky rewrites? Wipe the board, yes, but then draw a handle and turn it to reveal the swirl of watercolors beyond, looping and dipping in a color-soaked landscape that would make Georgia O'Keefe drool. I will draw strange birds that swoop like dragons, huge fish that dart and gleam like Perseids, friendly trees that trundle behind me so I never want for shade. With each new invention I draw, You will be both chalk and hand, the spark behind the inspiration, the artist within the spirit. May I re-discover Your marvelous palette, its rioting symphony of hue, and with it paint a world not yet envisioned.