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[11 Nov 2013 | No Comment | ]

Ignatian Life if currently on sabbatical because the bloggers were feeling over-committed. Hopefully someday we will restart. In the mean time, enjoy the archive!

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People and Conversation »

[17 May 2013 | No Comment | ]
Door (with doorstop) to chapel at Jesuit Center in Wernersville, PA

Door (with doorstop) to chapel at Jesuit Center in Wernersville, PA

“Why do you have a stage light?” I queried, as we opened the back of the station wagon in Georgetown’s parking garage last fall and a heavy matte black cylinder toppled out. “It’s a doorstop,” declared my eldest, something his tone of voice intimated should have been obvious. Which it should have been. Years have dwelling with technical theater geeks have given me an appreciation for a hitherto unseen ranges of possibilities in everyday objects. Admitedly the transfer usually goes the other way, leaving me peering at some prop mid-production and realizing that my missing side table had not been appropriated for grading midterms but had snuck off to star in the high school production of Noises Off.

The light was plopped into position at Mike’s door, holding open this new space as we moved his boxes in. It was still there when we returned to see him on our spring break, casually rolled into place as we stopped in his room while he checked his laundry.

Mike took his last exam on Friday, but has yet to come home. Instead he is taking a bit of a break between the furious pace of his first academic year and the undoubtedly furious pace of the intensive Greek course that starts in a few days, and musing on his blog about what he’s learned this year (besides a lot of Greek). Earlier this week he wrote about some of the more idiosyncratic items on his college packing list — the inflatable moose head and his doorstop.

“I can’t tell you how many conversations I had about the huge stage light I use as a door stop or the inflatable moose head I kept around for bit,” he writes in “Find a Doorstop.” Not surprisingly, his open door literally led to an openness to new relationships, but he points out that this theatrically sized doorstop worked on other levels. His eccentric doorstop reminded him to be open to new experiences, to things that might not have seemed engaging in the past. To make room in his heart for new people, and new passions.

As I read his reflection, I wondered if Mike remembers the homily at the First Vows mass we were at not quite three years ago. Eight of the Jesuit novices that I had made the Spiritual Exercises with professed their vows in the Society of Jesus that day, and the homilist was Joe Lingan, SJ, who had been their novice master (and who is now at Georgetown, too). In his homily, framed around Gregory the Great’s description of Ignatius of Loyola’s heart as being big enough to encompass the universe, Joe invited us all to consider our own openness of heart: “A vow ceremony is a good occasion to assess the size of one’s heart — it’s openness, flexibility, passion and desire — and to see how and in what way I allow God and God’s grace to assist in the maintenance of my heart.”

I’ve periodically returned to those questions (usually when I run into the prayer card from that occasion that is tucked into my breviary). How flexible is my heart, can it expand? What am I passionate about? Where do I desire to be able to love, and to love, not in the abstract, but in my practical day to day existence?

Mike’s doorstop, drawn straight from one of the passions of his life, makes me think about the doorstops of my heart. What do I use to keep my heart open so that I can love — God and neighbor — passionately, abundantly, joyfully?

The ephemera in my breviary; notes and prayer cards and fragments of palms from Holy Week’s past that I literally use to hold the book open when I pray, but that also serve as reminders to pray for the living and the dead, and to recall the Pascal Mystery that orients my life; the woolen prayer rope bound to my wrist, a bridge to the desert fathers and mothers, who sat on the edge of vastness, open to God; the Examen, returning me to the doorway of each day to contemplate what doors I choose to hold open, which to shut.

These doorstops are tangible graces, God at work in me doing what I cannot do for myself: hold my heart so open that, like Ignatius, it might one day encompass the universe.

Sustainable Living »

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[17 Apr 2013 | One Comment | ]

Boreal forest and tar sands extraction

The Christian life is not just about introspection and feeling God’s presence: it sometimes requires us to do things. Tomorrow in Grand Island, Nebraska the United States Department of State will hold a public hearing  on the proposed construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. If approved, this pipeline will transport some of the world’s dirtiest oil across the American Great Plains to refineries near the Gulf of Mexico. There it will be turned into low-grade fuel for export abroad, mostly to countries without clean air regulations.

Contrary to popular misconceptions, this oil will do nothing to move the United States toward energy independence because it will not be consumed domestically. Moreover, most people have neglected to notice that the oil belongs to Canada, not the United States. Clearly large multi-national oil companies are bullying Nebraska landowners and spreading misinformation to the public in order to maximize their profits.

But, even if the oil did belong to the United States and even if it were earmarked for domestic consumption, we should not allow this pipeline to be built. The process used to extract Tar Sands oil has destroyed and will continue to destroy ancient Boreal forests in Canada. If the process stopped today, the land would not recover in a time meaningful to human beings. If the pipeline is built, it will cross the Ogallala Aquifer centered in Nebraska. This aquifer contains the vast reserve of ground water and contributes significantly to the success of agriculture on the Great Plains. A leak similar to the one that took place in Arkansas a few weeks ago could contaminate the aquifer putting millions at risk. Yet there is more. If this oil is actually turned into fuel and burned, it will contribute to the buildup of atmospheric carbon at rates higher than oil extracted from other sources, which are themselves problematic.

The construction of this pipeline and the burning of this oil represents an egregious abuse of human freedom. By doing these things we reckless endanger the future viability of the earth to sustain human beings and other forms of life. For present profit, we are mortgaging the lives of all coming generations. How can this not move us to a holy and righteous anger and impel us to action.

Again, the Christian life is not just about introspection. When Jesus felt rage at the abusive practices of the money changers in the Temple, he did not just lament this privately and do nothing. He overturned the tables and publicly challenged the practice. St. Ignatius did not teach people the spiritual exercises simply to make them more self-aware. He also wanted to help people discern how God was calling them to respond to the needs of the world and to go out and set the world on fire. Sending Jesuits to Asia was an incredibly risky and uncertain thing to do. Francis Xavier’s journey to Japan was an active response to discernment.

As a Nebraskan, I would ask you to consider joining this pipeline fight. At least take the time to learn the truth of the situation. Beyond that, as a Christian I can think of no greater threat to the future of the world than our collective indifference to the degradation of the earth. We will make no meaningful dent in all the other problems impacting the world is we do not engage.  We need to find a way to live non-destructively on the only planet we have.

For more information about Keystone, visit http://boldnebraska.org

Photo: “Boreal forest and tar sands extraction” by Toban B. from Flickr (Used under Creative Commons license)

Prayer, Discernment, and Practice »

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[20 Mar 2013 | One Comment | ]

paying attention

Mid-lecture the teacher inconspicuously taps on the front corner of my daughter’s desk to call her back to attention. Much like me, my daughter is a dreamer, comfortable letting her mind wonder into other worlds or places she would like to be. Often it seems my prayer time is just that: time to wonder away to another place.

During Sunday mass I wonder how many people in the congregation are actually following the homily at all. I imagine their minds tuning out the words from the pulpit, coming to rest instead upon their to do list or some recent conversation or upcoming tension to be dealt with. As I wonder about them, I realize that I am just as checked out as they are, lost in my head. Read the rest of this entry →

Prayer, Discernment, and Practice »

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[13 Mar 2013 | 3 Comments | ]

Congo Savanna 1

In January 2013 I traveled with several companions to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). We were to be guests of Nicolas Djomo, the Catholic bishop of the diocese of Tshumbe. We were headed to the town of Tshumbe, from which the diocese gets its name. The purpose of our trip was to make a documentary about both his work and that place. Read the rest of this entry →

Prayer, Discernment, and Practice »

[11 Feb 2013 | No Comment | ]

Essay draftingTo use my friend Fran’s marvelously apt word, it’s been a crazymadbusy week here. It was a crazy busy week on the calendar in the first place, and when a last minute writing project dropped into the mix Tuesday evening, it got crazymadbusy in short order. It was the sort of week that you could name, like a winter storm, or hurricane.

Suddenly, I was trying to cram about twelve hours of serious high-stakes writing into a twenty-four hour period that didn’t have very many crevices in the first place. Something had to go. Sleep for one. I stayed up until three in the morning to get a solid first draft in, texting my college aged son, who was likewise suffering from a surfeit of writing. Read the rest of this entry →