Amazing things in the past 48 hours. Writing some (probably cryptic) notes here for future-Mel's memory benefit. (Audrey, you can ignore this part.)

  • Mary's paint-stained yellow towel as a veil and the beginnings of a cocoon gathered among elders.
  • A labyrinth in a tractor barn so cold your breath fogs as white as the plastic wrapped around your sneakers.
  • Abbee's face lighting up at seeing a bottle of water.

Still waiting for Audrey to respond to last week's Mass readings, but this week's were about the baptism of Jesus. There are two options for each reading; we did the second one at St. Tom's, so that's the "comfort, give comfort" one and then "Beloved: the grace of God has appeared," and then Luke's account of the baptism.

Honestly, I don't have as many coherent thoughts to write about this round -- they're cryptic to me -- but I'll say that (1) an interesting question to ponder might be "why would Jesus need to be baptized?" (dun dun DUNNN) and (2) it's fascinating to cross-compare this account of the baptism of Christ (written by Luke, a Gentile) to the other Gospels, which are much more "the voice of God came to Jesus," whereas Luke just says "the voice of God came," which made me go "aaaaand all the other people around at the time heard and saw this too and totally freaked out, or what?" (Because if seeing the heavens open and a dove descend upon this random guy and a voice boom out "THAT'S MY SON!" isn't grounds for questioning your sanity, I'm not sure what is. So I was thinking "geez, there must be some account of the mass hysteria/hallucination if everyone saw that.")

It was then that a fellow grad student reminded me that as the only Gentile (non-Jewish) gospel writer, Luke had a tendency towards inclusion -- clarification and translation of potentially obscure Jewish terms, writing about the (usually ignored) women and children, trying to write in a way that gave everyone access to God. (Access and inclusion! Two things I can totally understand.) So when Luke writes, he leaves out things like "...aaaand to Jesus only!" as, perhaps, a sort of habitual "open everything to everyone!" attitude. (He's also a doctor -- so a geek of sorts, basically -- and uses very precise medical and scientific terminology in his writing.)

Anyway, that's all I've got on Mass this week so I'm going to write a little about praying since that's been on my mind.

I think of praying, Mass, etc. as love lessons. Not romantic love (blehhh?), but just... love. In some ways, it's sort of like working out. Want to build muscular strength? Hit the gym, and do pushups outside of it in random moments you might have, and you'll be better able to adapt as a fit person in the world in the random physical challenges that come your way (carry this kid! haul these groceries! outrun this dog!).

Want to build spiritual strength -- the capacity to be fully in the world with an open heart and act in it with love in everything you do? (Wow, that sentence was weird to write; it's hard to get these thoughts across without sounding hokey and cliche.) Praying is like doing pushups for your soul; it helps you be the person you want to be in responding to the random stuff life throws your way. This includes shit -- dealing with shit gracefully and well -- but also includes fully appreciating awesomeness. Which sounds like it ought to be easy, but... many times in my life I've been given awesomeness and been COMPLETELY TERRIFIED of it and really not appreciated it as well as I could have. But that's how we learn. I learn how to deal with awesome things (and shitty things) by... dealing with awesome things and shitty things, and getting better at it each time.

I don't do the praying thing formally all that much. I always hated ceremonies and Masses and memorized prayers and structured things when I was younger, and still grumble somewhat about them today (I see that sometimes they have value, but they often still feel like eating ampalaya). I've always been much more of a "climb a tree, talk with God" person -- in fact, that's exactly what I'd do when I was smaller and my parents would drag me and my brother to the Eucharistic Adoration chapel (which often felt like the Torture Chamber For Small Children). I'd sneak out "to go to the bathroom," but actually run into the lawn behind the church and climb around the trees or on the playground and go "hi, God! It's a Mel! How are you? It is sunny! Books are fun!" or whatever small-Mel-self was keen on or confused about at that time.

Even now, I'm not a formal prayer person. When one of the Catholic students here mentioned "ooh, and we could all pray the Liturgy of the Hours together every day, and/or a Rosary each week, and/or --" my first reaction was aaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh FLINCH FLINCH FLINCH um um I mean that's very nice for YOU if you want to do that -- because I have spent way, way, way too many hours in forced formal prayer that meant nothing to me, sitting in Masses that I really, really  didn't want to sit in. I don't think anyone should be forced to pray or go to church or whatever -- actually, it was because of my Confirmation that I left religion and went much farther away from God for a long, long time. (Something around 12 years.) If ever I have kids, I do not want to force-feed them faith. (Everyone, please hold me to this. Future offspring, if you ever do exist and find this, feel free to use this against me.)

So I pray the way that makes sense to me. My "grace before meals," if you can even call it that, is (if anything) a quick mental "hey, God! OM NOM NOM!" I get distracted by squirrels mid-prayer. ("Hey, GOD! OM NOM -- ooh, a squirrel! -- oh, um, food! Yeah! Hey!") I talk with God about ridiculously trivial things ("Hey, God! It's Mel, I'm on my way to class -- where are my keys  oh here they are thanks") and my prayers occasionally use, um, less than polite language. And I try to listen, too, for what I'm called to do. I'm learning to ask for just the next step, and not need to know the whole picture -- just the next thing I should do. But that's me. Everyone's got their own way; you find yours. Everybody's got their own journey; you take yours.

Good luck, kiddo. Wish me luck and pray for me too; lord knows I need the help.