White Knuckling the Viam in Mari


I have heard from my confessor of White Knuckling. To put this as clearly as I can, it’s the way I tend to ward off sin: Nope. Not gonna do it. Not gonna do it. Not gonna do it. Not gonna do it. Not gonna do it. Not gonna do it. Not gonna. Not gonna. Not gonna. Not gonna. Not gonna. Not gonna. Not. Not. No. No. No. No. Drats. Time to go to confession. I’m told this is not the right way to do it. How else is there, though? My current line of defense is simply to get just a few more days of saying, “Not gonna do it. Not gonna do it.” Can I go 10 days before confession? What about 11? One day at a time, you know… Not gonna do it. Not gonna do it. Wouldn’t be prudent. Not at this juncture.

In (EF) Matins for the Feast of St Clement, which was observed last week on 23 November, there is this Versicle and Response:

V. Dedísti, Dómine, Sanctis tuis viam in mari, et in flumínibus sémitam.
R. Iter præbens pópulo terræ, ut enárrent mirabília tua.
V. Lord, Thou didst give unto thy Saints a way in the sea, and a path through the mighty waters.
R. And Thou gavest a way thither unto the people on the land, that they may tell of thy marvellous works.

The image came to me of Israel standing at the shores of the sea, trapped. The Army of Egypt behind and impassible water in front, death before and behind. What I’m about to say is nothing original: even St Paul saw this in the first century. But the water – which moments before had been certain death – suddenly became their salvation. And for a week now, that’s been playing in my head: how did their very death become their salvation? The armies of Egypt, long seen as a typological sign of the evil, sins, and temptations of this world, drive the People of God to the brink of death… and yet, God makes that death into life.

Can one let go of white knuckles… and trust God even in the face of temptation?

Spiritual warfare is not all about slaying the enemies. We think of knights in shining armor galloping forward into battle. But I think that’s the wrong image just now. Israel was going forward. The armies of temptation were behind them. To turn and fight “through” the army of Egypt would have been the wrong choice. We’re trying to get to the Promised Land and, when you think about it, the tempters are not between us and heaven – they’re trying to get us to turn away from the path. Think of the icon of the Divine Ladder:

The temptations are not on the ladder but rather trying to pull us off of it. They’re saying the path is too hard, the road is scary, come, fight us… they know that if we grab on and hold the ladder with our white knuckles, we won’t even be climbing.

How to stop “not gonna do it” and to turn to God in trust and walk through the water – that is our warfare. To say, God’s got this and to keep going.

V. Dedísti, Dómine, Sanctis tuis viam in mari, et in flumínibus sémitam.
R. Iter præbens pópulo terræ, ut enárrent mirabília tua.
V. Lord, Thou didst give unto thy Saints a way in the sea, and a path through the mighty waters.R. And Thou gavest a way thither unto the people on the land, that they may tell of thy marvellous works.

Not Down, But Through

 “When Thou passest through the waters,”
Deep the waves may be and cold,
But Jehovah is our refuge,
And his promise is our hold;
For the Lord himself has said it,
He, the faithful God and true;
“When you come to the waters
You will not go down, but through.”

Seas of sorrow, Seas of trial,
Bitter anguish, fiercest pain,
Rolling surges of temptation
Sweeping over heart and brain…
They will never overflow us
For we know His work is true;
All His waves and all His billows
He will lead us safely through.

Threatening breakers of destruction,
Doubt’s insidious undertow,
Will not sink us, will not drag us
Out to ocean depths of woe;
For His promise will sustain us,
Praise the Lord, whose word is true!
We will not go down, or under,
For He says, “You will pass through.”

Annie Johnson Flint

Foodie Memories


Thanksgiving is always partly about the remembrance of things past. Food memories all tie together. One problem with “friendsgiving” is if you’re not eating with your family you have no shared memories. Your Mom may have burned the pan of dressing every year, but that was her dressing and the whole family knew it. Your coworker might burn the dressing as well: but it’s not Mom’s. Even if you eat food every year with the same group of friends, it’s not going to balance out the memories created in the first 18-25 years of your life.

I’ve lived in so many places that my food vocabulary is blessedly large. I can have a Proustian moment with so very many things. (Mostly) Local Foods I miss from from nearly every place I’ve lived. Some are family foods, however:

Ft Gaines, GA: My late Grandmother’s Butterscotch pudding.
Warner Robbins, GA: Shakey’s Pizza
Hainesville, GA: Miss Ida’s Coca-Cola Ice Cream
Wurtsboro, NY: The Schnitzel and Spumoni at the Olde Valley, Grandma’s spaghetti dinner and crazy cake.
Acworth, GA: Mr Black’s Sausage Biscuits, and Jeanette’s Strawberry Cobbler, also DQ
New York City: Proper pizza – especially a nice Sicilian slice from St Mark’s, proper bagels (must be made with Catskill water…), pastry from Caffe Napoli, Mamoun’s.
Hoboken, NJ: anything from the Hideaway, and Arthur’s.
Astoria, NY: Uncle George’s Athens burger and lemon roasted potatoes.
San Francisco, CA: Ok, I live here, but when I’m not here, I miss our amazing Pan-Asian Menu, and proper burritos.
Asheville, NC: Cheerwine, proper BBQ, Slaw Burgers and Slaw dogs, Juleps in the Summer Heat and Matushka Huneycutt’s Stroganoff, and also her Mashed potatoes. Yes, I miss Duke’s as well.
Buffalo, NY: Friday Fish Fries, Jake’s marinated tofu.
Canon City, CO, not a lot of foods to rave about here, to be honest, but I developed a love for Sonic drive-in. Also the altitude turned my normal pancakes in to light, fluffy clouds of awesome.
Phenix City, AL, Catfish. Mom’s Fruit Salad.

I know I can get a lot of these things (and often do) via the internet or even from creative local chefs. Still, these things are so much better in situ. And they each have memories attached.

Nukuler Family

I found out recently that there is, among conservative Catholics, an idea common with conservative Orthodox folks: that a person must decide between “marriage or monasticism”. I wrestled with that a lot in the Orthodox church, because I know I’m not called to marriage. Even my dearly loved Spiritual Father, Fr V, tried to fix me up on a date… it was literally 10 years before I realized it was a date… when I got the “well you never called” comment. And I was like, “What? I was supposed to call?”


Then I tried a monastery. I did pick the wrong one… and that may still be my vocation… but when I heard that Catholics, too, had this idea among their more conservative folks, I had to think about it again. What if they are both right?

Thing is, this idea is not in the Church Fathers at all. This idea is not in the canons or the liturgy. There’s no sense, even, that one is “called” to marriage until well… 1950 or so. That’s when it hit me. Single people in the parish are not a violation of canons, or tradition, or even Tradition: they are a violation of Mid-Century ideas of Autonomy and Suburbia.

We have this post-war fixation on “the Nukuler Family”. This idea is far more deadly than the atomic bomb! It’s American Autonomy done up in  Sit-Com Costumes. Prior to this time, you family was not just Mom and Dad, Buddy and Sis. It was generations, and kids, and cousins, and hangers on. Your family was large enough to handle marriages and singletons. It was a lot of love for protection and support. But if Mom and Dad have to raise their kids far from the in-laws, and the kids have to grow up and move further away… as a cultural idea than, of course, single people get left out of the package.

To the Church’s credit, a monastery is a great place to find community when you don’t have it in your family. But it’s not because everyone is called to “Marriage or Monastery”. Rather, it becomes a stop-gap because we have an unhealthy idea of what “family” is supposed to be.

Yes, I realize that there are hundreds of thousands or even millions of people in my generation (and younger) that would rather chop off their right arms, and their left ones, than live in the same small town they were born in. But that’s only because we taught them not to. We taught them erroneous – even heretical – ideas of self sufficiency and autonomy. We taught them that it was a failure to stay with their parents (even if they had jobs). And we taught parents that their successful children had to move out. WTF for? If Mom and Dad are both working, and the kids too, buy a bigger house, and expand! Get more land, build more rooms, glom on to the tract house ranch in the adjoining lot(s) and take over the whole cul de sac!

We have this sick idea that when I hit 18, I’m not only not supposed to live with my parents any more, but I’m not supposed to pay them back for 18 years of support… until they are old and decrepit and need someone to take care of them. Shouldn’t they get the reward of befriending their adult children? Shouldn’t we all get a chance to care for each other now? Nearly every social service, every welfare program, every “safety net” is predicated on supporting folks in their autonomy rather than keeping them in family networks.

If I go to a monastery, shouldn’t I be able to do so knowing the rest of the family is there to take care of each other? And if I decide not to go to such a place, should I not have the joy of a house filled with loved ones and kids, and life? Until 20th Century America, the idea of running away to “strike out on your own” was just not a thing. Why did we let it take over in the Church?

What can we do to repair this? No, I don’t think you should tell all the singles in your parish (regardless of age) to move back in with their folks. But can we create communities that hold and harbor them? I don’t just mean at Pizza Night either. I mean in homes, in large networks of familial form and even content. Can we create intentional, multi-generational communities of love including married and single folks looking ever Christward in their service, prayer, and mutual support?

“Marriage or Monastery?” is not the correct question. Rather we should ask “Where is your community?” Which is your family of choice – this large, boundless, familiar tie that weaves through your life, or this boundless brotherhood (or sisterhood) that you would graft on to in the name of Christ? Either way it’s an icon of Christ in his Church. The only failed icon is the Cleavers…

Stopping By Sonic After Church in the Evening

WHAT town this is I do not know
It’s exit one eleven though
So just one short of one oh three
where driving I would homeward go

My little car, this GMC
won’t need the gas: this stop’s for me
between the stores and parking lot
this summer evening breezy, free

The lights turned down I pick a slot
in park the gear the motor hot
My order placed my card I sweep
The car hop serves it hits the spot

This Sonic blast is thick and deep
the flavor funnel it will keep
and I will drink it for I sleep
and I will drink it for I sleep.

(With fondest apologies to Robert Frost from DHR.)

Count as Loss.


The Readings for Thursday in the 31st week of Ordinary Time (B2)

But whatever gains I had, these I have come to consider a loss because of Christ. More than that, I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

Is there a way to safely look at all of life that went before Jesus and recognize it has no value? Literally, none.

What once was the very meaning of success. What once was the end goal and target of political aspirations, of angry yelling and screaming in the halls of power… is now anathema. And what once was the assumed end goal is now out of reach.

What was once a stumbling block, is now the focal point. What was once the hated enemy is now home. What was once a bastion of oppression has become the greatest liberty, the greatest joy, the richest dreams, the most potent strength.

What was once the easiest thing to get
 Is now the last thing, least, unimportant thing.
What was love turns out to be nothing.
What was everything turns out to be lost.
And what was never on my mind at all
 Is always there, always pushing forward, always driving homeward.
How at 20 could one be so blind?
And how at 50 could so much light still only be the smallest portion possible?
How is Light never at 100% finally?
How is there always more love?
How can Truth ever unfold into more?

Once nearly everything was freudian and sexual.
And sarcasm.
Now it’s deadly serious.
And filled with Joy.

And this, they say is only the beginning.

And pains and white water all serve to sever connections. Loss and loves all bend to one direction. Even the joys of life like sunrises and winter chills only point one way. And it is foolish to kick against the goads.

One day I will wake up and drop this all and won’t care to do so. One day the light will turn up so bright that it will burn and I won’t mind. One day the love will pierce through like steal in my hands, my feet, my head, my side…. my heart.

And I will will finally know as I am known.

And only the grace by which I stand…

will be left at all.

Please, be it so.