Month: May 2012



Philip Guston
Silver Lake Blvd. and Parkman, LA




In May, 2010, I found myself tooling up the Gulf Coast Highway in Texas listening to this Nanci Griffth tape I’d had for ages.  Route 77, the leg I was on, is apparently a major drug-, gun-, money-, poached game- and people-running corridor.

I didn’t see a ton of bluebonnets but it was a thrill to actually be in the place the song was about.

“And when he dies 
he says he’ll catch some blackbird’s wing
Then she will fly away to Heaven, 
come some sweet bluebonnet spring”…



I must say I have not been entirely well. I have been so far out of my normal routine and therefore “out of my comfort zone” that I’m not sure what’s going on.

On top of it, my mother is fading. I was so grateful to spend last week with her, but there were of course many emotions as well, and leaving her was wrenching.

This morning I was cleaning my desk and I came across a little card a friend sent me years ago. It’s a quote from Dorothy Day: “I always had a sense of being followed, of being desired, a sense of hope and expectation.”

I thought, Well I haven’t. I’ve had a sense of abandonment and failure and pulsating, electric fear. I threw the card in the wastebasket and started crying.

And then I went to Mass.




In Memoriam M.K.H., 1911-1984

When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives–
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

–Seamus Heaney

Mom is recovering from a fall that left the whole left side of her face bruised.
She never complains.


Today we have a guest post from Rozann Carter, who is the Creative Director at Word on Fire Ministries.

These good folks often re-run my posts and now they have graciously granted permission to re-run one of theirs.

You can see the original post here and more of the  WOF blog here.

Having just returned to Chicago from the small, rural New Mexican community where she grew up, Rozann Carter reflects on the differences between urban and rural Catholicism– on display within a simple, fervent prayer for rain.

O God, in Whom we live move and have our being, grant us sufficient rain, so that, being supplied with what sustains us in this present life, we may seek more confidently what sustains us for eternity. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever.

 -taken from the Roman Missal of the Catholic Church, special prayers For Civil Needs

Mounted on the post of the barb-wire fence that separates the front yard from the pasture is a rain gauge. When the first crest of a thunderhead is visible on the horizon, when the phone lines are busy with local farmers and ranchers dialing up their neighbors 20 minutes further west to see the scope of what is rolling in, while families are anticipating the post-rain, deep-breathing, prayerfully giddy backporch session that is hopefully to come, that rain gauge sits—a quiet, inanimate, unaware receptacle of the palpable hopes of an entire community—hopes grounded in an inch-worth of measured drops of water.

Please, God. Please let it rain.

And so they wait, day after day, watching the local weather channel with religious devotion for an often-disappointing percentage chance… and then the sky for a sign that the “real Weatherman” is more merciful thanKFDA’s Doppler Dave. They make plan A’s and plan B’s based on the news, selling the cattle for another week of wind, tumbleweeds and dirt; holding onto the herd upon the prediction of a gully-washer. They talk at the coffee shop (the kind with Cain’s Drip and Mini-Moos cream) about what they’ll do when the grass doesn’t grow and only the noxious “loco weed” survives, about the inordinate number of grasshoppers that are eating up the remaining stalks… and then, with lightness and joyful carrying-on, about how the local football team just whipped a 3A school across the Oklahoma line.

And they go to Mass. They bring their humble and fervent pleas for provision; they arrive with a sense of being utterly susceptible and powerless to muster up a rain cloud on their own accord; they fortify themselves with weighty back-up– their children, who have been given specific directives to keep petitioning, keep praying, keep giving thanks.  (The cycle of desperate hope and resignation/elation that accompanies this rain-prayer was on hilarious display in my family growing up. My cousin Kyle, upon making the connection that rain meant a “happy dad” and after a few confusing mornings of 3+ inch rains and no puddles, was discovered making the rounds filling up the rain gauges with a water hose.)

The orientation of rural communities around the cycle of the seasons, the weather and the type of Divine blessing that calls to mind the Israelites’ “manna in the desert” creates a specific type of spirituality. There is a seriousness, a depth of dependency, and a daily resignation to the will of God that occurs in rural life which is difficult to replicate. I returned to Chicago last week after having spent a long weekend at home in Northeast New Mexico amidst the highs and lows of the agricultural Spring, more aware than ever before of this contrast.

Urban Catholicism, mind you, is a grace-infused, organizing force that defines neighborhoods, serves as a means for acquiring healthcare and education, and populates carnival-style block parties. It makes a city into a community and organizes initiatives to make free-time valuable (eternally valuable) for those with little to none of it. It holds the common good in high esteem and boldly participates in both local and global corporal works of mercy to elevate this good. It provides a place of worship, of repose, and of embodiment of the Kingdom of God, very much amidst the imposing forces of a hostile culture.

Rural Catholicism, on the other hand, has a different organizing dynamic. The rural Catholic Church, especially if it exists in an agricultural community, is place of gathering, not so much to unite a varied prayer, but to pray a common prayer in unison.  It’s a pinnacle experience bringing together career, community and faith. Its liturgy is positioned at the end of another week of county-sweeping forecasts, of community-wide fulfillment or disappointment, of answered prayers or the resignation that there is a deeper lesson to be learned in the seemingly unnoticed appeals.

Within the mystique of the pastoral, the perception of being idyllic, serene, and simple, and even the criticism of being disconnected from the societal and cultural milieus of the day, there is something of rural life that gets at the heart of what it means to know one’s place vis-à-vis God. The daily necessity of fervent supplication creates an almost monastic, beggar’s mentality that orients one around the all-powerful, other-ness of Providence in humble submission, while still pleading for his very personal intervention, as if He calls forth blades of grass in the same way that he numbers the hairs on one’s head and names the sparrows.

The rural Church exemplifies a necessary reorientation of priorities, the temporal in service of the eternal, in the midst (and for the good) of the entire community. The Old Testament nature of this daily trust keeps one humbly and thankfully dependent, in a proactive and yet submissive way, which is the prerequisite for true sanctity.

The lesson to be learned from the rural church is contained within this dynamic of praying for rain. Within the interior identification of what it is that we physically need, what we may take for granted but simply cannot live without, we recognize that we are fundamentally a beholden people. We are dependent on a God who reiterates that our fervent supplication does more for us than for Him, a God whose mercy, severe at times, is exercised with our ultimate good in mind. He sends the rain in due time, but during that passing time, he glories in the spiritual transformation that comes only by way of the recognition of a need so intense that it cannot be filled by our own power, but so daily that it must be constantly reckoned with. 

Would that we were all this vulnerable… always.

Please God, let it rain. 



poison sumac, coming into bud,
portsmouth, nh

A priest passed this link on to me: a site “dedicated to the spiritual journey and prayer life of all those who are in need of healing, and in a special way, all those who have suffered sexual abuse by clergy, religious, or lay ministers of the Catholic Church.”

The site was created and is maintained by a young woman who for the duration of her childhood was sexually abused by her semi-fanatically religious Catholic father, became a Carmelite nun for awhile, and along with the rest of the family had her life blown apart when the father was arrested. At which point she was forced to re-visit the wound and writes movingly and deeply about entering into a St. John of the Cross “dark night,” where God seems to exacerbate the original wound almost past endurance.

The woman’s name is Carrie Bucalo (she is married now, with three children) and her site is called Healed by Truth.

Some excerpts:

“Through my love-hate relationship with the cross, I am finally relieved to be experiencing many of its fruits. I’ve had to face other’s and my own darkest sins. I was, and am, very weak, I cannot even begin to tell you just how weak I really am”…

“My father was an active lay minister at our parish. He helped with RCIA classes and sponsored many people into the Church. He was an usher, scripture study leader, marriage enrichment leader and Eucharistic minister. Unfortunately, my father abused the Church’s teachings to sexually abuse me. It would seem that this kind of revolting situation would logically end up in my hatred for my father, and as a result a hatred for Christ and the Church. After all, every time I saw a cross, or went to mass, or read the scriptures, or prayed the rosary I was reminded of what my father did to me”…

‘The Holy Spirit is the Church’s living memory’ (CCC 1099). By participating fully in the Church’s sacramental life and liturgy, we access the very memories of God, which are the source of God’s healing and grace for each one of us: ‘The Son of God heals the whole man, soul and body, through the sacramental life’ (CCC following 1065).

But what if we were wounded by someone who is intimately connected with the sacraments of the Church, and what if we experience PTSD and pain when we try to draw close to the sacraments? This is a very valid question for anyone who has been sexually abused or molested by Catholic clergy, religious or lay ministers in the Church. I do not want to beat around the bush, so I’ll get straight to the point. Christ has an answer for anyone in this unfortunate circumstance, and it is a dangerous and difficult answer. But it has the power to transform, heal and restore to victims all that has been lost.

The answer is the ‘Way of the Cross,’ in the deepest sense possible”…

“I’ll be honest, when I let go of my very self in Carmel, I felt like I was letting go of everything, even the good parts of myself and of God. But, God was always there to hold tightly onto these things, for they really weren’t mine to let go of anyways, they belonged to him.

From our experiences of the Dark Night, we can all learn one simple thing: we learn what exists outside the edges of our being. When God moves us far beyond our limits, beyond our power, beyond our knowledge, beyond our strength, beyond our existence, we will collide with something wonderful, something eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing, mighty and strong, namely God Himself. He is what lies waiting for us in the silence of the heart and soul. He is the one who lies outside of everything we know and yet at the same time within everything we know. And what a comfort this is!

It is along this dark road of the spiritual journey that we eventually learn to rely totally on the graces of prayer and the sacraments. It is moving forward into a greater spiritual maturity, with only darkness to guide us”…

Carrie hopes to make her story into a book.



Transcript of scene from the Werner Herzog documentary Into the Abyss:

Death House at Walls Unit

Huntsville, Texas
Interview with Fred Allen, former captain of Death House team
Allen is describing what would take place on the night of an execution: the dressing in “street clothes,” the eating of the last meal, the accompanying of the inmate, by five men, into the room. And then…
“[Allen]: I’d tell im, ‘Jump up on the gurney.’
Q [Herzog]: It’s only a few steps.
A. I would say…close as you are to me. No more’n ten steps. If that much. I would immediately go around to the gurney cause I always took care of the left leg. So as soon as he lay down I took hold his left leg. The other person was in front, with me, to take care of the right. The other three fell in behind. One would take care of the right arm. The other’d take care of the left arm.
And the other one’d be there in case the inmate…once he lays down if he had a response of trying to get back up, his job was to hold. to hold his shoulders down. You know…you’re not…once you’re up there, you’re up there. You know. Within that time, us four people would have him done…probably within fifteen seconds he’d be strapped down. Completely. Cause we all know where the straps are and what we were supposed to do. The time…to do the process. We trained on it.
It’s the last time you’re gonna see…I’m gonna see him with his eyes open. Cause after the execution’s done and the process went, and they call the doctor to pronounce him dead, and everyboy leaves…my job begins again cause I have to go back in there…that’s also kinda difficult because here you’ve set with this individual for eight to ten hours…all day long…and now the last thing you’re doing is…removing those straps. The straps have to be removed and put ‘em on another gurney for the funeral home….and then…you didn’t think about none a this while you’re doin this…the procedure…none a this…you don’t keep…you don’t put those emotions out there. You…you do the job. You go home.
Q: You did how many executions? Roughly.
A: It was over 125. Somewhere over 120. It was a bunch. It got to the point especially after I got promoted captain in 1990. We were doing two a week. And that was getting tiresome.
Q: And what happened to you there.
A: I…back when they, they brought in Karla Faye…I stayed in back then with her. Now, definitely that was the first…female…that we were fixin to execute. I re-…remember one thing so vividly that…it was an hour before and I was standin there and the chaplain was standin there and she looked at me and she goes, ‘Thank you, Captain Allen, for everything you’ve done.’ [Looks off into far distance]. I said, ‘You’re welcome.’ You know…that’s all I could say. What else am I gonna say, We’re fixin to strap your down in another hour? Unnh…which we went…the procedure and everything went just the way it was supposed to, you know. She was pronounced dead and I went back in there and I took the straps off and put her on the other gurney, we locked everything up and went about our business and everything was fine. I had a little shop in the back and it was 6 o’clock and the news came on over the radio and it started again and for some reason it just out of blue…hearing it…it triggered me seeing her…I started shakin. I thought, What’s wrong with me? And then…
Q: How badly did you shake?
A: It was…it was a shake. Like, I couldn’t…why am I shakin? And then I was just…I was sweating…and tears. All of a sudden I just…this is hurtin. I remembered her, and this was two days afterwards, I remembered her execution…hers was no different than anybody else but it was hers…and I started actually visualizing the other inmates as …you asked me did I look in their eyes…where I could see em. I could actually see em in the holding cell again. You know, one right after the other. And it seemed like there was just…My wife said, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ And I don’t know. I need to talk to somebody. And the first person I could think of to talk was Carroll [?]. Chaplain Picky [?] He came over to the house and we sat in the swing and I started…coming down…and I…he says, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ and I said, ‘I can’t do it no more. I’m done. I can’t….I can’t go back there anymore.’
Q: Could it be that you thought this was not yourself [doing the executions]? That maybe it was your real self at that moment?
A: That was a possibility.
Q: It’s really deep inside of you.
A: Yes.
Q: It came out.
A: Yes, it did. I mean from that point on I’ve had a different outlook in life. If executions was the law, then I was gonna make sure that they were done professionally and with integrity. I was a pro…capital punishment…after Karla Faye, and after all this, to this day, eleven years later…no sir. Nobody has the right to take another life. I don’t care if it’s the law. And it is so easy to change the law…





APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering          
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us…

From T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” (1922)



when I showed Mom this photo, she sighed and said,
“All white hair!” 

You’ve heard of DIY home improvement, DIY weddings, and DIY probate: in my New England family we did DIY medical care.

Why pay for a doctor when you can treat compound fractures with Bactine, psoriasis with Ben-Gay, and appendicitis with a warm washcloth and Mom’s music box?

Distrust of all things medical is hard-wired into my psyche.  But I’ve been trying to be more “open,” and when a friend of a friend recently recommended a “body worker” my ears perked up. I have this weird neuro condition on the bottom of my left foot that makes me feel like I’m walking on a red-hot, sharpened pebble; the kind of unknown-cause, unknown-cure thing where the podiatrist advises, “Try different shoes and good luck.”
“She does marvels!” this friend of a friend of mine gushed about the body worker, so I called and turned out she, the body worker, knew all about my particular ailment, and had treated a guy who suffered so extremely from the same condition I had that he’d been on crutches, and the body worker had gotten him up and running.

So I thought, Okay, I’ll give  it a try.

As soon as I got on the table the body worker poked around my right hip and my left ankle for a sec and then she shook her head. “I can always tell the control freaks,” she said. “When’s your birthday?”

“July 19th.”

“I knew it!” she crowed. “Cancers take care of everyone else before they take care of themselves.”

“I actually don’t take care of other people OR myself, but whatever.”

lilacs and cross, St. Ann Rehab, Dover, NH
Mom’s staying here for a bit as she took a nasty fall last Thursday and ended up in the ER
I’m visiting from LA for a week
Jesus statue outside Mom’s window
Medicare pays for the first 21 days, then we co-pay 80%, which would be 144 bucks a day,
in addition to the $3625 per month we pay at the Wentworth Home, her usual pad. And apparently that’s cheap!  
The body worker dug her fingers into both sides of my neck, then my scalp, then my right shoulder.
“What about my foot?”  I asked.
“Can’t address one part without addressing the whole body. What’s your rising sign?”
Rising sign?” I can barely keep my regular “sign” straight.
She turned my right knee this way and that, pinched the inside of my left elbow, and stood back, chin in hand, like a painter inspecting a canvas.
“Do you muscle-test?” she asked suddenly.

“Not lately.” .
“Ever been molested?”
“No, but all my friends have been”…
She told a long story about a “medical intuitive” named Carol Myss that involved the visualization of a pirate ship and a woman being stabbed that sounded insane.
“What about my foot?” I asked.
She told me about EFT which involves tapping various parts of your body—the top of your head, under your nose, under your arms—while saying, “Even though I’m homicidally enraged, a loser, and deficient in every way I completely and deeply love myself.”
“What about my foot?” I interjected.
She said, “Your right leg is way heavier than your left.” She said, “You need to cross-correct.” She basically said every single thing about my body was wrong and needed work and was out of alignment and needed to be musculoskeletally re-trained.
As I creaked down off the table, she looked deep into my eyes and said, “This is the start of a journey. Pain sends you on a journey.”
I didn’t even bother asking, “What about my foot?” I forked over 85 bucks and limped around for the rest of the day like I have for months.
Body work, schmoddy work, I thought..
I thought: I wish I had Mom’s music box.

Mom has a new hobby: tearing tissues and napkins into even-sized smaller strips,
which she piles up and uses one by one to dab at her nose.
I donated two Starbucks napkins from my jacket pocket and as you can see, she went right to work
it becomes clearer and clearer to me: the genesis of my love for trash,
bargains, buds, twigs, seed pods, Sacred Heart badges, milagros, the emotionally wounded, and small leather goods…


Three years ago, in NYC for a couple of weeks, I attended Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Before dismissing us, the priest announced that the Sisters of Life had set up a little booth there that day. In the twenty-plus years that I had carried my secret and my shame, it was the first I’d heard of any group that actually addressed the wound of the mother; that treated the woman who’d aborted neither as a pariah, nor as a potential poster child for the pro-life movement. I hung around the fringes for awhile and I can’t describe the light these nuns threw off: anything but hokey, anything but contrived, anything but patronizing, anything but with an ulterior motive, anything but weird.

Finally I worked up the courage to approach one of them, a beautiful woman in her late twenties with a solid, welcoming face that seemed to invite in the whole world. “Thank you for the work you do,” I said. “I’ve had three”…and started weeping. “I’m sure there’s help for you there,” the sister said when I explained that I lived in L.A.

I didn’t seek help for many more months. But it was the face of that young nun–healthy, wholesome, sane, compassionate, joyful–I really have to thank here. Love is how you treat those who have nothing to give. I had nothing to give her. And she gave me back my life.

photo found at the black cordelias: more about the SOL there

Sister Maria Kateri (L) and Sister Catherine Marie from Sisters of Life ride their bikes in Toronto, February Holy Post, from an article by Charles Lewis, April 10, 2011