Friday, May 23, 2008

What I'm reading

When The World Was Young. By Tony Romano.

I remembered a good review of this novel and was happy to find myself at the same table with the author during this year's Society of Midland Authors banquet. It's about the Peccatori family in the 1950s on Chicago's West Side, six kids, mom and dad, zio and zia. My Latin is rusty but I do know that the family's last name is related to the word for sin. It's so '50s Chicago ethnic Catholic I can just about smell the food at the beef stands referred to. Ain't nuthin like an Italian beef sandwich. (Some of us Polish kids preferred Italian beef to Polish sausage. ) It reminds me of home, of Catholic school uniforms, bungalows and hanging out after school. Nicely vivid.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Make way for ducklings

While riding my bike this morning on the Gilman Nature Trail I hit the brakes to watch the passage of the first duck family I've seen this year. Mama duck was leading eight wee ducklings who looked so alike and stuck so close together I couldn't quite count them as they waddled in her wake. 'Tis the season for bird birth. Also seen pathside as spring ripens here in suburban Chicago: a wild geranium in pale purple bloom, rabbit running across the trail, an egret simply standing around in a pond. I may not be in Colorado or Oregon on vacation, but this bike trail grows lovelier the more I ride it, and it's less than 5 minutes from my house.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Spiritual direction points the way inside

The English language (and probably most others) has few good words for the processes that happen inside us: thinking, feeling, sensing. One process that doesn't have a very nuanced language is healing. Sure, we know the process of healing from physical wounds, because science has given us words that describe what's going on. But psychological trauma is relatively less understood. So people with PTSD and awful childhoods and genocide survivors and other experiences that have hurt them are the walking wounded, only they don't have bandages or crutches.

This is by way of introducing a spiritual therapeutic technique I ran across while hunting for story ideas and investigating spiritual direction. Visio divina sounded intriguing; it's a particular type of contemplative prayer practice that can happen in spiritual direction. Spiritual director Karen Kuchan says visio divina might be especially helpful for younger adults -- Gen X -- who as a generation have very good BS detectors and also a deep longing for authenticity, that is, the real McCoy beyond slogans, commercials, and clay-footed idols.

Visio divina involves the use of internal images during contemplation. As Kuchan describes it in an article she wrote for Presence: An International Journal of Spiritual Direction , it's a time of silent opening to the presence of God, which prompts an emotional experience -- what is called cataphatic, or experience- or emotion-based, as opposed to apophatic, the wordless contemplative space that Buddhist meditation teaches. She also suggests that the contemplative process that includes three "persons" -- spiritual director, client (I hate the word "directee") and God -- "reflect the inner life of God imagined in the Trinity. " This is hard to understand at first blush, but I find the notion that God is a process more intriguing than imagining the relationships among an old guy with a white beard, his son and their pet bird.

I hesitated to write about this because it really is hard to find the words for something so internal. Psychology has a very good language for it. But psychology generally doesn't traffic with religion, thanks to Herr Doktor Freud and others who have found religion an illusion. It's up to the mystics of religion and spiritual directors such as Kuchan. Maybe Quakers too. Sitting in silence for an hour at meeting has given me lots of practice in waiting for God, which holds much more promise than waiting for Godot.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

For my absent daughter, on Mother’s Day

Today, while folding laundry you had left behind, I found myself in your room, puzzled. I opened your drawers and I didn’t know where to put things. Where did you get these socks? Hmm, where does the underwear go? What nice pants – how come I’ve never seen them?

Time was, I knew everything you wore. I picked it out, paid for it, put it on you, washed it in baby laundry soap so it wouldn’t irritate your skin, wrote thank-you notes to those who gave you clothing as a gift. I remember those days; they were not all that long ago.

Now you are 19, away at college, and you’ve just spent three days by your all-alone self in the wilderness. Sure, it wasn’t that far from home, but you had to sleep alone, walk alone, get yourself there and back again, cook, put up your little tent house, and trust to the rangers and the stars. I know you took my car, but how did you get there? How did you grow so far and go so far? I am so glad you did. I am so glad you will come back. You will return and tell me your adventures, your travels, your studies, your thoughts, your problems. I am sorry I missed you after you returned. I had some obligations of my own. I look forward to your news, your life. I gave you life, and there you go, running with it, my runner.

The year my own mother died – your Grandma Zdun – I had my first Mother’s Day alone. Today is not my first Mother’s Day alone in our family, in this generation. Your little brother is still home, and I get to take care of him. You also were away once before, off on another journey, that one to Mexico, to learn another language, find another family. You did both of those tasks so well. You also helped me get ready for many Mother’s Days to come, by leaving the nest. I’m glad you will come back.

The year my own mother died, I wrote a very good piece about mothers and children, about being left alone, about death and life and noticing what is taken for granted. I spent days at my mother’s house; I didn’t recognize her clothes, but I recognized her habits. I didn’t recognize your clothes, but I recognize your habits: the way you fold things, which you have taught me. You are teaching me things. You have always taught me things, from second one of day one, your birthday, when you slid out of my womb and they put you on my chest and said, it’s a girl. My daughter. I’m your mom. You have been leaving me since the day you left the sanctuary I provided in your very earliest days, the womb. Keep going. You’re headed in the right direction.

It’s hard to let you go, though, so I’m glad you will come back. Come back as often as you can, as often as you need. Your dad and I will be here.