A space between



This is normally off limits, but was open because some guys were working on the air conditioning unit of the church near where I work. The unit is behind the wall, and there is a chain-link gate that seals up this small passageway. It is very narrow, so the worker has to be slim. I wonder if anyone thought that the entire unit might need to be replaced some day? They’d have to either take down (and then rebuild) the brick wall or use a crane.

I appreciated getting a chance to see this view without the fence in the way.  I considered going on a wander to see the area inside, but figured I couldn’t justify it.

Killing Time


I found these cigarette butts in the canister outside the library. I’d not heard of them, but I found the name amusing and disturbing at the same time. Time is the one thing that cigarette smokers don’t have. They smoke it away. They are literally killing time when they smoke. Worse, they are killing time in multiple ways. At first, it means not doing anything meaningful with their lives during the fifteen minutes they take to smoke. It ends with years cut off their lifespan. In the middle, their quality of life is lessened (why am I using the passive tense – they lessen it themselves, it isn’t done to them) by the diseases they get – cancer, emphysema, heart disease, etc.

When I was growing up, cigarettes were known as “coffin nails” or “cancer sticks”. Perhaps something like that would be more honest. But this is pretty good.  Maybe it will make them think about what they are doing to themselves.

These are discount cigarettes, so they most certainly have more “filler” and less tobacco in them. Thus, they are even more dangerous to smoke. It seems logical that if someone wants to save money, they’d quit smoking altogether.

The sad part is that the poor suffer even more when they smoke because of the unnatural ingredients in their cigarettes. (Again, why am I using the passive voice? Smoking is a choice. Nobody forces you to smoke.)

The cross of Christ

The crucifixion was a time of great emotion for Jesus. He was most like us at that point. He pleaded with God and at one point even felt abandoned.

During the rest of his life he was quite casual about everything, as if doing miracles such as walking on water, feeding thousands of people with a handful of food, and raising people from the dead were everyday occurrences. He would pray to his Father before each miracle he did, and he even sighed occasionally as if this was all too tedious and common.

Yet on the cross he was scared. He wasn’t sure if this was going to work out. He hoped this was going to be like the test of Abraham, where there was a reprieve at the last minute.

The difference was that on the cross, Jesus wasn’t in charge. He wasn’t performing the miracle. It was being performed on him. He was passive for the first time in his life. At that point, he was the most like us because he wasn’t in control of the situation.

Jesus’ family – on the lie of the ever-virgin Mary

Why does the Catholic Church insist on saying that Mary is forever a virgin? She was a virgin at Jesus’ birth, but did not remain so. The Gospels tell us that Jesus had brothers and sisters in many different stories – in one they are even named. These are not step-children. Joseph had not been married before, and he and Mary did not divorce. Thus, all of his brothers and sisters were the children of Mary.

Does the Church presume that all of his siblings were also immaculately conceived?

Do they presume that Joseph never had marital relations with Mary? Is that reasonable?

It is normal an in fact encouraged for Jewish families to “be fruitful and multiply”. Having many children is a mitzvah. In fact, a woman is looked down on if she does not have many children.

Why does the Catholic Church insist on perpetuating this lie? And perhaps more importantly, why do Catholics accept it?

If they will lie about something so easily verified by the text, then what else would they lie about?

Here are the places in the Gospel that refer to Jesus’ siblings.

Luke 8:19-21

The mother of Jesus and his brothers came to him but were unable to join him because of the crowd. He was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside and they wish to see you.” He said to them in reply, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”

John 7:1-9
Jesus traveled in Galilee from then on. He didn’t want to travel in Judea because the Jewish authorities were trying to find a way to have him killed. The Jewish festival of Sukkot was approaching.
Jesus’ brothers said “You should leave here and travel to Judea in order that your followers can see the miracles you are doing. Nobody does something privately if he is seeking public acclaim. If you are going to do these works, you should do them so everyone can see.” Not even his brothers believed in his message.
He said “My time isn’t here yet, but yours is always present. There is no reason for the world to hate you, but it hates me because I speak up about it and its evil acts. Go up to the festival by yourselves. I’m not going yet because it isn’t my time.” He stayed in Galilee after he said this.

MT 12:46-50, MK 3:31-35, LK 8:19-21 (Condensed Gospel)
His mother and siblings came to him while he was speaking with a large crowd but they couldn’t reach him. They sent word that they wanted to speak with him. Someone in the crowd told him “Look, your mother and siblings are standing outside waiting to speak with you.” Instead of going out, he said “Who is my family?” Indicating his followers who were seated in a circle around him, he said “Here they are! Whoever hears and does the will of my Father in heaven is my mother and brother and sister.”

((This was the response of the congregation after Jesus declares that the words of the prophet Isaiah are fulfilled by him –

MT 13:54b-57a, MK 6:2b-3, LK 4:22 (Condensed Gospel)
They were amazed and said “How did he get to be so wise, and how is he able to perform miracles? Isn’t this Joseph the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother Mary, and isn’t he the brother of James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters sitting here with us? Where does he get these ideas?” They were offended by what he said.

A wander.

I went on a wander recently, inspired by the book “The Wander Society” by Keri Smith. She is the author of interactive books that inspire creative thinking – such as “Wreck This Book” and “The Pocket Scavenger”.  They aren’t books so much as ideas and suggestions to make you see the world differently.  Normally you do something to the pages with her books – glue something in, paint something, staple, sew, chew, freeze…   But this book is different.  You are the one who gets altered.  You are encouraged to go on aimless wanders, inspired by Walt Whitman, and really experience the world, directly, without using your phone at all.  Actually see, smell, hear, taste, feel what is around you – interact with the real world, as it is, and as you are.

She says that if you send a picture of a small cairn (a pile of stones) that you made to info@thewandersociety.com, you’ll get a Wander Society membership card.

I could have cheated and made one in my back yard, but I’d know.

I went to my dentist’s office recently and got there a little early. I happened to park in an area that I don’t normally.  There is a Midas Muffler shop next to the office, and from where I was parked I could see they had a tiny back yard.

Here is a view of it from Google Maps – the yard is in the bottom right. His office is at the top.


I wandered out of the parking lot for the dentist and into their yard. I didn’t look to see if anybody was watching me.  Most people are so involved in their own concerns (and their phones) that they don’t notice someone stepping off the pavement and into some other area.  Also, if you act like you are doing something wrong, people will think you are doing something wrong.  So don’t act like it.

I wandered partly into the yard to look at it. It was a small area – big enough for a picnic, but not for a game of soccer. I didn’t go all the way in.  I saw some stones (probably chips from the concrete) near the patio area.  I went closer to look at them and realized that the door to the shop was open.  There was a possibility that they could see me.  I had to be careful. I stacked the chips to make my cairn.

I stood out of view of the door when I took this picture.  I wanted to minimize my chance of getting caught.  It wasn’t like they had “no trespassing” signs up – and I wasn’t damaging anything.  I stacked some stones.  Hardly vandalism.  But I still didn’t feel like explaining what I was doing.


I used the camera’s magnification to take this closer shot.  This is what I sent to them  but I’ve not heard back from them.  (Or her, because is this really a thing – or is it just her idea and she wants to be a thing?)


Do you need a membership card to be a wanderer?

When part of the questionnaire for the society says that “Would you be willing to give up technology on a temporary basis from time to time?” and has questions asking if you agree or disagree with these statements – “Modern society has created a situation where life is experienced second hand, through screens instead of through direct experience.”  and  “It is time for us to take control of our mental environment.”  – then maybe I’ve failed as a wanderer by trying to get confirmation of my membership using the very technology they are trying to get us to move away from.

The website is www.thewandersociety.com 

Don’t do like I did and just look at the lightning-bolt symbol and think that’s it.  Scroll down and click on the other symbols.  Print out the various things – one of which is the membership card.


Grief shuffle

Inertia is absolutely normal and to be expected when grieving. This is a hard journey, this journey of grief. How to walk forward, when half of you is gone?

And yet we must walk forward, all of us, who have lost someone we love. We walk forward because they would want us to. We walk forward because to not do so is to die slowly, is to let that dull nothingness win.

Yes – we must sit with our grief for a time. We must make time for it, to absorb it, to let it speak to us. We must let it move through us, changing us, transforming us. How much time does it take? As much time as it does.

Consider the caterpillar in its cocoon. Consider the seed in the ground. They don’t know what they are becoming, but they are becoming. They are changing, sometimes painfully. Who would recognize them after they transform? Who would know what they had been, and how hard it was to get there? And yet they do.

And so do we.

A hidden place

This courtyard was off limits the last time I went to St. Meinrad’s. The monastery itself was being renovated – they are upgrading to geothermal energy.  It is quite expensive, but will pay for itself in just a few years.  The necessary plumbing changes that go with it meant that all the monks had to be relocated to rooms that were usually used for guests or seminary students.  This meant that a courtyard that had been open in the past was closed off for their private use.  I was especially sad about this because I’d looked at maps before coming here and especially wanted to prowl around in this one.  Just two days before we came here on retreat, the monks were allowed back “home”.

Here is the covered walkway to it.


I was a little overwhelmed – take it all in, or start taking pictures?  It is hard to “be in the moment” with a camera in front of your eyes.  But I also wanted to share this space with you, and to be able to process this experience later.



I wonder what kind of tree this is?  I wonder who planted it, who chose it.  When was it planted?  Has this one always been here, or is it a replacement?  Does it have special meaning?  Was it dedicated to someone?


Notice the solid architecture.  This place is designed to last.  Nothing temporary about it.


But, as always, I think – is that what Jesus wanted – for the Church to build for itself?  Aren’t we called to take care of others?  How many poor people could have benefited from this?  If all the poor are fed, clothed, housed – then the Church can build such things for itself.


There must have been a campaign to donate the paving tiles.  I wonder if these people knew how shallow the inscriptions are?  They won’t last more than a few years.  Just like gravestones, they’ll fade away.


It seems like it would have been better for the Church to get these people to donate towards a place to help the needy instead – a halfway house, a drug treatment center, a shelter for battered women…


This is the most symbolic part – but I’m sure nobody else sees it.  A dead tree.  Why is it still here?  Why keep it?  Sentimentality?  Much of the rites and rituals of the Church are like this tree – kept out of habit.  They no longer are connected to the Vine, the Living God.  Yet they are kept, enshrined, memorialized.  Idolized.


Be Opened! (poem)

Who is this man, the one who speaks to us?

We’ve never seen anyone like him.

He speaks with authority,

He heals everyone who comes to him –

the deaf, the mute, the blind.

He even raised people from the dead!

Jesus knows, we are beautiful on the inside.

He sees our treasure, when all we see is trash.

He tells us that we are the light of the world,

to share that light with others.

Don’t hide your light! Be opened!

“Ephphatha” he said to one person.

“Talitha, koum!” he said to another.

Both times, calling to us, here, now.

“Be opened! Arise from the dead!” Awaken!

Peter said “Command me, Lord”

and he was able to walk on water.

He commands us too, and we can do anything

because he asks.

Our brokenness is God’s doorway.

He stands at the doorway of our hearts and knocks.

Be opened!

I am with you

During spiritual direction at the retreat at St. Meinrad’s in Indiana, I was asked to visualize being on a road with Jesus.  Where was he, in relation to me?  Then I was to imagine I found something on the road that was interesting.  Do I show it to Jesus?  Do I have to run to him to show it, or does he have to catch up?  Or do I just point to it and hope he figures it out?

I don’t normally like to spend a lot of time with these visualizations.  I usually feel very self-conscious doing play-pretend as an adult.  I’m also a little afraid that I’m going to be smacked down – that this is a trap.  It wouldn’t be the first time that a religious leader has purposely tried to make me look silly – and thus shame me into silence.

But I decided to a) be brave and trust and b) not go with my usual habit of trying to get to the good part too fast.  I’m not very good with waiting in the stillness of time that it takes for things to gel. Jesus and I are working on that.

I imagined I was walking on a dusty, rocky road, like the Camino de Santiago.  I was walking ahead, and Jesus was  behind me.  He was far enough away that conversation would have to be in gestures and shouts, but we could still see each other.

I saw a rock that was interesting and decided to wait for him to catch up to show it to him.  There were a lot of rocks on the road and I wanted to make sure he saw this specific one, because it was so different.

When he caught up with me and I showed him the rock, he smiled and said “Yes, I put that there for you to find.”

And my mind was blown.  How?  He was behind me.  But this is Jesus.  Jesus transcends time and space.  Jesus is everywhere.  He is before, behind, above, below, and within me.

Where I’d been wondering about him being behind me – aren’t I supposed to follow him, and not the other way around – he answered it.  He was behind me to watch me, to make sure I stayed on the path.  He was behind me to make sure I didn’t turn to the left or the right.  He was behind me to support me, to help me.

Years back, he had to be in front, but I watched his walk and matched my pace to his.  Now I can walk ahead and see new things.  My view is unobstructed.  I can go to new places, because he has shown me how.

The Walk isn’t about doing the same old things again.  It is a pattern, not a map.  You aren’t supposed to recreate his life, like a diorama, like a museum.  It has to be a living path.

The retreat theme was about rocks – about us being the living stones of the Church, about how even the stones would cry out if Jesus made his disciples be silent, about how we are like geodes – that being cracked open reveals our beauty.  I’d decided to take pictures of different examples of stones to meditate on, and took this one before the silent direction time.


It was only later when I was looking at my pictures again that I noticed the one almost in the center that has a cross shape, revealed inside the rock itself.


I went back to that area several times to try to find this rock, to take it home.  In a way, I’m glad I didn’t find it.  It is important to not iconize things, to not be weighed down by them.  It is the One who left me the stone in the visualization and in real life that is to be noticed.  The stone is just a symbol.  Symbols have to point to the thing – they aren’t the thing.  The trouble comes when we focus on the symbol.  That becomes idolatry.

Mary in the Woods

On Friday morning while on retreat at St. Meinrad, I found one of the two grottoes with Mary that are on this campus. Both of these special places are hidden away in the woods, away from the church, not on the map.  They are nearly impossible to find unless you ask for directions from someone who has been there.


I’ve read that statues of Mary have been discovered in caves and in fields – and when they are removed and placed in churches, within a few days they have miraculously returned to where they were found.  It is as if Mary does not want to be in church, in a cold, lifeless building.  Mary is all about being among us, the commoners, where we are, as we are.

I find it significant that this image of Mary depicts her as if she is a non-Catholic at Mass.  This arm position says to the priest to give a blessing only – that this person cannot take Communion.  Following their rules – she could not take Communion because she was not Catholic.  She was Jewish.  But if it weren’t for her saying “Yes” to God – to letting the Holy Spirit of God work through her, Jesus would never have come into this world.  The Catholic Church could learn a lot from Mary.


The other grotto is quite far away.  You have to walk away from the seminary, the guest house, the church.  You have to walk by two small lakes and into the woods. I found it on Saturday.  This is the view looking back at the place where we stayed on retreat.  It is the closest building to this grotto, and also the furthest building from the church.  This is significant.

The actual grotto is another five minute’s walk from here.


There are no signs or path.  You’d never know that this was here until you are almost upon it.


Mary greets you with open arms.



Notice the detail – she is barefoot, and she is stepping on a snake with fruit in it’s mouth. This is the snake from the Garden of Eden, and that is the apple that Eve and Adam ate.  Mary is the antidote to that poison.  It is said that they brought original sin into the world with this act of rebellion against God.  Mary brought grace into the world by acting in accordance with the desires of God.


Someone had been here before me and left an offering of wildflowers for her.  They had faded and were musty.  We must daily refresh our faith and reconnect to the true Vine in order to remain alive in spirit.