Category Archives: words

tattoos on the heart.

I have read a lot of books this year, both fiction and non-fiction, but the book that has impacted me the most has easily been Fr. Greg Boyle’s Tattoos On The Heart.

We were fortunate enough as a community to hear Fr. Greg speak in Boston about a month ago, and I read the book shortly after. Maybe the timing was just right, but his speech/the book gave a voice to so much of my experience this year through his message of kinship, solidarity, and dignity.

As I read, these two quotes in particular stood out:

Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe of what the poor have to carry rather than in judgement of how they carry it.

Sr. Elaine Roulette, the founder of My Mother’s House in New York, was asked, “”How do you work with the poor?” She answered, “You don’t. You share your life with the poor.” It’s basic as crying together. It’s about “casting your lot” before ever becomes about “changing their lot.”

This year has taught me so much, and one of the most important things has been this centrality of sharing stories, of knowing and being known, and putting a face on the abstract.

Needless to say, I plan on purchasing my own copy of Tattoos on the Heart after this year is over, and I have a feeling it will take up permanent residence on my bedside table. Out of the 30-ish books I have read so far this year, it is the one I most wish I could give a copy of to everyone I know.

some thoughts from james martin, sj.

Fr. James Martin, SJ is one of the most popular Jesuit writers around today. Over the past year, I have read many of his articles, as well as two of his books, and I had the chance to see him speak back in December at Boston College (the video above is a link to that exact talk). The following quote is from his most recent book that I just finished a few days. I’m at the point in the year when I’m really beginning to take a serious look at what is the next step for me after JVC, and this passage really hit home as I tackle that process of discernment.

“God desires for us to be the freest, most mature, most loving, most alive person we can be. As the second century theologian St. Irenaeus said, ‘The glory of God is the human person fully alive!’ In other words, God wants us to be our best selves. Our ultimate vocation is to become the person God wants us to be. And the first step in this journey is recognizing that our deepest desires–for satisfying work, for supportive community, and for healthy love–are holy desires, planted within us by God for our own happiness. 

So desire is an important part of the spiritual life. Where does desire come from? Well, I believe that our deepest desires, our most heartfelt longings–not simply our surface wants and selfish needs–come from God. In our deepest longings we hear echoes of God’s longing for us. And the more we can follow those deep-down desires, those that God places within us for our happiness, the more joyful we will find ourselves. 

Of course distinguishing between our surface wants and deep desire requires some careful discernment. Just because I ‘want’ something doesn’t mean it’s good for me. Christopher Ruddy, a professor of theology at the Catholic University of America, recently put it this way to me: ‘Another Quarter Pounder sometimes seems like a good idea–but I always regret it later. Only in hindsight do we see how God would not let us settle for our well-intentioned but limited desires, but called us–sometimes weeping and kicking–to something more enduring and satisfying.’ 

The most lasting joy comes from following those deep desires and heartfelt longings that bring us closer to God. It makes sense if you think about it, because when we are acting in concert with what we feel God desires for us, things will feel in sync. St. Ignatius Loyola often spoke of feelings of ‘consolation’ that come when we follow our deepest, holiest desires. In coming to know ourselves as capable of being moved by God’s holy desires, and in choosing to strive to follow those invitations the best we can, we feel ourselves moving closer to God in trust, in hope, and in confidence. All this leads to joy. In other words, when we do what we are made for, we find joy.”

–James Martin, SJ, Between Heaven and Mirth

just a small town girl.

One of my housemates recommended the book American Wife to me recently, and the following passage from it encapsulates so much of how I feel about Missouri and growing up in a small, Midwestern town. There are some things I love about the East Coast and especially Boston, but I think the Midwest will always be where I feel most like myself.

“Then we were back in Wisconsin, a place that in late summer is thrillingly beautiful. When I was young, this was knowledge shared by everyone around me; as an adult, I’ve never stopped being surprised by how few of the people with whom I interact have any true sense of the states between Pennsylvania and Colorado. Some of these people have even spent weeks and months working in such states, but unless they’re midwesterners, too, to them the region is nothing but polling numbers and caucuses, towns or cities where they stay in hotels […] 

Admittedly, the area possesses a certain dowdiness I personally have always found comforting, but to think of Wisconsin specifically or the Midwest as a whole as anything other than beautiful is to ignore the extraordinary power of the land. The lushness of the grass and trees in August, the roll of the hills (far less of the Midwest is flat than outsiders seem to imagine), that rich smell of soil, the evening sunlight over a field of wheat, or the crickets chirping at dusk on a residential street: All of it, it has always made me feel at peace. There is room to breathe, there is a realness of place. The seasons are extreme, but they pass and return, pass and return, and the world seems far steadier than it does from the vantage point of a coastal city. 

Certainly picturesque towns can be found in New England or California or the Pacific Northwest, but I can’t shake the sense that they’re too picturesque. On the East Coast, especially, these places–Princeton, New Jersey, say, or Farmington, Connecticut–seem to me aggressively quaint, unbecomingly smug, and even xenophobic, downright paranoid in their wariness of those who might someone infringe upon the local charm. I suspect this wariness is tied to the night cost of real estate, the fear that there might now be enough space or money and what there is both must be clung to and defended. The West Coast, I think, has a similar self-regard–all that talk of proximity to the ocean and the mountains–and a beauty that I can’t help seeing as show-offy. But the Midwest: It is quietly lovely, not preening with the need to have its attributes remarked on. It is the place I am calmest and most myself.”

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

own your slippers.

One of my goals for this year as a JV has always been to do a lot of reading. While I have only begun to scratch the surface so far of all of the books I want to read, my most recent book–Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese–provided a lot of wonderful food for thought. Here is one of my favorite passages from Cutting For Stone:

Ghosh was touched. He lay in the center, and we huddled on either side. Hema sat at the foot of our bed.

“In prison, lights were out by eight o’clock. We’d each tell a story. That was our entertainment. I told stories from the books we read to you in this room. One of my cell mates, a merchant, Tawfig—he would tell the Abu Kassem story.”

It was a tale well known to children all over Africa: Abu Kassem, a miserly Baghdad merchant, had held on to his battered, much repaired pair of slippers even though they were objects of derision. At last, even he couldn’t stomach the sight of them. But his every attempt to get rid of the slippers ended in disaster: when he tossed them out of his window they landed on the head of a pregnant woman who miscarried, and Abu Kassem was thrown in jail; when he dropped them in the canal, the slippers choked off the main drain and caused flooding, and off Abu Kassem went to jail…

“One night when Tawfig finished, another prisoner, a quiet, dignified old man said, ‘Abu Kassem might as well build a special room for his slippers. Why try to lose them? He’ll never escape.’ The old man laughed, and he seemed happy when he said that. That night the old man died in his sleep.

[…]

“The following night, we couldn’t wait to talk about Abu Kassem. We all saw it the same way. The old man was right. The slippers in the story mean that everything you see and do and touch, every seed you sow, or don’t sow, becomes part of your destiny…”

[…]

Ghosh sighed. “I hope one day you see this as clearly as I did in Kerchele. The key to your happiness is to own your slippers, own who you are, own how you look, own your family, own the talents you have, and own the ones you don’t. If you keep saying your slippers aren’t yours, then you’ll die searching, you’ll die bitter, always feeling you were promised more. Not only our actions, but also our omissions, become our destiny.”

P.S. On a similar note, I’m newly obsessed with Good Reads, so if you care to see what I read over the course of this year, you can follow that here.

the power of words.

Fittingly, one of the ESOL teachers from Casserly House passed a book onto me called The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got That Way.

The following quote sums up why teaching and learning English as a Second or Other Language is so difficult.

“But perhaps the single most notable characteristic of English–for better and worse–is its deceptive complexity. Nothing in English is ever quite what it seems. […] As native speakers, we seldom stop to think just how complicated and illogical English is. Every day we use countless words and expressions without thinking about them–often without the faintest idea of what they really describe or signify. What, for instance, is the hem in hem and haw, the shrift in short shrift, the fell in one fell swoop? When you are overwhelmed, where is the whelm that you are over, and what exactly does it look like? And why, come to that, can we be overwhelmed or underwhelmed, but not semiwhelmed or–if our feelings are less pronounced–just whelmed? Why do we say colonel as if it had an r in it? Why do we spell four with a u and forty without?”

Seriously though, I think about the English language on a more complex level everyday now at work than I ever did as a formal English minor in college. Now, isn’t that ironic?

i set out upon a journey.

“All stories, they say, begin in one of two ways: ‘A stranger came to town,’ or else, ‘I set out upon a journey.’ The rest is all just metaphor and simile.
–Barbara Kingsolver in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

The above quote from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle isn’t really reflective of the subject matter of the book in the slightest, but as I read it tonight, it resonated with me about how I feel about this year and what this experience means to me.

(Also, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a fantastic read for anyone interested in questions concerning where we get our food, eating locally/seasonally/organic, etc. And it’s fun to read as well.)

A few words.

“The best way to inspect the streets of Rome, if you wish to study as well as to see them, is to break your pocket-compass and burn your maps and guidebooks… take Chance for a mentor and lose yourself.”
–George Sala
“Arms, and the man I sing, who, forc’d by fate,
And haughty Juno’s unrelenting hate,
Expell’d and exil’d, left the Trojan shore,
Long labors, both by sea and land, he bore,
And in the doubtful war, before he won
The Latian realm, and built the destin’d town.”
–Virgil, The Aeneid
“Turn all the pages of history, but Fortune never produced a greater example of her own fickleness than the city of Rome, once the most beautiful and magnificent of all that ever was or will be… not a city in truth, but a certain part of heaven.”
–Poggio Bracciolini
“In Rome, you long for the country; in the country–on inconstant!–you praise the distant city to the stars!”
–Horace