Monday, June 25, 2007

Simple pleasures and imaginary conversations

Inspired by the encouragement of a friend, I've made an upgrade in my morning oatmeal. Having only had (and pretty much hated) instant oatmeal as a kid, I'm not quite sure how I managed to give oatmeal a try again. I think it might have been those cold New England mornings! Anyway, I've pretty much had a bowl of oatmeal every morning since about a month after I moved here. At first it was quick-oats, but before too long I upgraded to rolled oats. Then on Saturday, I happened to be on the phone with someone just as I was loading my organic rolled oats into a plastic bag in the bulk food aisle at Whole Foods. She said to go for the steel-cut, which were actually also organic (not surprising) and actually cheaper (shocking) thant the rolled oats. So yesterday morning, I made the move to steel-cut oats. Today is morning number two of this bliss. And though it is very tempting--you'll see how tempting in a moment--to wax poetic to extol the virtues of steel-cut oats, I'll keep it simple: dang, they're awesome!

They are awesome enough that they put some poetry in my mind this morning. Some of you may remember that I went to hear Galway Kinnell at a poetry reading this spring. One of the poems he read was "Oatmeal." Unfortunately, if you follow that link, you'll have to read it yourself (he won't be there to read it to you!), so you may not appreciate just how slowly and playfully (and thus incredibly amusingly) he read it. It really isn't about oatmeal quite so much as it is about his having a bowl of oatmeal with an imaginary John Keats. Somehow I found myself eating (and loving!) my steel-cut oats (aka Irish oats) and remembering this poem and thinking "I bet they were eating these."

I'm also thinking of inviting someone to breakfast tomorrow. Perhaps breakfast with Thomas Aquinas--and hearty whole-grain goodness--could start me off on a great day of writing!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Nature abounds, too

I know that some of the readership is particularly interested in these sorts of updates. But I'll begin with the end: all is well.

Paul didn't show back up at the group home last night. This is the first time this sort of thing has happened since he moved in there in February. I got a call from the group home manager this morning asking if I'd seen him and informing me of the whole thing.

By this point in my life, somehow I've learned not to worry too much, because he always shows up. Sure enough, someone found him at one of his normal hangouts around lunchtime. He missed two doses of his medicine, so they are taking him in for evaluation. I spoke to him and asked what happened. In pretty typical Paul fashion, it was a little confused, but it went something like this. He missed the last bus back to the home, so he figured he might as well try to either go to Texas or get a job. Somehow, he ended up at a homeless shelter instead, but this morning he figured he would work on getting a job and/or going to Texas. Obviously, he got as far as one of his ordinary lunch locations. Oh well.

The best thing, though, for any of you keeping track is that (a) I didn't spend last night worrying about him and wondering where he was, (b) I wasn't the one out looking for him this morning, and (c) I am not at the doctor with him right now getting the evaluation of the impact of missed doses on his fragile mental health.

I am, of course, spending my valuable time blogging about him, though. Okay, back to work.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Canine companionship

Well, I just mailed off the adoption contract for this little darling. She is a lab mix, born the first week of April. Her mom and her litter were rescued from a high-kill shelter in Tennessee and she'll be transported to New England on July 14th. On my facebook space, I'm running a conversation about what to name her. I've been thinking about names with some sort of an interesting connection to saints, theology, philosophy, and literature (esp Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and Harry Potter).

Right now, I think the frontrunners are Lily and Iris Murdawg. Iris Murdawg would be for the philosopher Iris Murdoch, who exerts a certain amount of influence over my thinking about moral matters. Her insight that "choices are something you make when ethics has already failed" looms large.

The name Lily is a bit more complex and of course less obvious. I was looking a bit at various titles of Mary and found that she is known, because of an apparition to St. Gertrude, as the White Lily of the Trinity. This has do to in some particular ways with the way Mary, through God's grace, embodies the virtues of the Trinity in her life. I like that. Plus, Lily is the name of Harry Potter's mom, who also embodies many virtues, not least of which is the willingness to lay down her life for her son.

I know some of my loyal readership has engaged this conversation on Facebook, but I'd welcome your insights here. That's of course especially true for those of you who don't do Facebook.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Like riding a bike

So, I've been trying to do some serious writing of the dissertation. When I write the dissertation, I have to think a lot about action, freedom, grace, virtue, will, intellect, object, intention and such things. But grace has been looming large lately.

So, yesterday, while I was thinking about how the indwelling Spirit and/or infused charity might or might not affect human freedom to act, it occured to me that I should go to Mass. It happened to occur to me at 11:45. There is a noon Mass at my parish, a mere 4 blocks away. So I went. Having identified the end (going to Mass), I chose the means (bike). I could have walked (would have been late, by the time I found shoes and things) or could have driven (ick: fossil fuels), but I opted for the bike. (The bike, by the way, is relatively new to me. I was seeking a used one on Craig's List, but once I mentioned the desire to friends around here, I was actually given two bikes. One actually works. I rode that one to Mass.)

So, for the first time, I rode my bike to Mass. Now, here's how this works. The ride to the end of my street is relatively flat, without real event. I make a left turn and then I have three blocks to go to the church. Just to give you an idea of where we are going here, the 2nd street over is called Hilltop. So, I make the left turn and begin to radically downshift. I am working my way up the hill. The thoughts go through my head something like this: this isn't so bad, just downshift; oh, God, what if one of my students sees me struggling up this hill?; what if one of my colleagues sees?; just focus; just breathe; wait a minute, just get off the bike and walk it up the hill; okay, would it be more embarassing to be seen struggling like this or to be seen walking the bike up the hill?; I think I'd be going faster walking; hmm... Hilltop isn't quite the top of the hill after all, but it is flattening out; hey, I made it!

I lock up the bike and get into Mass. I hear a homily (not good) and receive Jesus (real presence, real grace). Then I get on the bike to head home. Not having really thought about hills and gravity and all that very much, I had a vague sense that this was going to be exhausting. As you've probably guessed: not so much. I of course flew back home with almost no effort on my part. In fact, at a certain point, I pedaled a bit but realized that I wasn't keeping up with gravity: my effort was no real effort at all, and it added nothing to the result.

As you can imagine, I was thinking a lot about the analogies to God's grace and human effort. The fact that I received eucharist between the trips up and down the hill was a little too tempting a narrative. We work so hard to little avail on our own; but with God's grace it gets so easy that it seems to be effortless on our part. But that doesn't exactly seem right, either. God's grace goes before, behind, within our efforts. It makes our efforts possible. Without God's grace, at just the right time, I don't think I would have even thought to go to Mass.

But I still like the idea that the moral life, with God's grace, is like riding a bike downhill. Maybe that's just because I think life would be a lot better if it were always like riding a bike downhill. Then again, it's nice to do a little pedaling occasionally, too.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Grace abounds

This weekend was a rather sacramental weekend for me. I went to a baptism on Saturday and a First Communion on Sunday, both featuring the children of colleagues. The First Communion was at a parish Mass that also happened to include 3 baptisms. So, it feels as though, well, grace is abounding.

Grace often comes abounding in unexpected ways. You have to love it when, for instance (to exaggerate just a tad for the poetry of it), the child is being signed with the cross and she screams as though she is being nailed to one. Or when we pray for her to be freed from her worldly attachments and, again, she screams with pain. What a disturbing but wonderful reminder of what it is we are doing to our children when we baptize them.

I'm still not sure what to make of the First Communion. I never really got an explanation for this, but it was just the one kid for First Communion, but at a parish celebration of the feast of Corpus Christi. So it felt a little strange. I don't think I've ever been to a child's First Communion where it was just the one kid. It made it oddly special and especially odd. But the priest imported especially for the occasion did a pretty nice job with the homily. Again, grace abounds.

Both occasions were followed by festivities: food, drink, community, children running around with joy and laughter. I feel very blessed by the community I have fallen into here. It is almost unbelievable to me that I feel as much at home here as I do, having been here less than a year. A wonderful, strangely appropriate thing for me to realize on the feast of Corpus Christi, my hometown in more than one way.