Saturday, November 26, 2016

Theology at Carluccio's

It's Saturday of American Thanksgiving weekend, and a favourite little pastime in the morning is to take a stroll on Dawson Street, inspecting the artwork in Patrick Donald's gallery, and grabbing a latte to go.

Today's coffee stop was at Carluccio's, a bustling beanery across from the former residence of the Lord Mayor of Dublin.  I walked in, and was deluged with smells of pastries and scones, all decorated up for the holiday season, wrapped around the aroma of roasting coffee beans.  It was a perfect sort of prelude for our plunge into Christmas preparations.

I approached the cashier and ordered a latte.  And jovially, I asked, "Don't you just love this season? It's such a marvel!"  "What season?" asks she.  And dumbfounded, I replied, "The holiday season! All these colours, smells and packages, and anticipation!"

To which she just shrugged and said, "All days are the same for me.  I don't much care about the seasons."

I left with my latte, in a thoughtful mood, reflecting on my own belief that all days are not the same for me.  Tomorrow we will put out purple and rose candles, and start to hold our spiritual breath for the days of the Incarnation.  On the way home, walking through St. Stephen's Green, I took delight in watching hundreds of pigeons flying in a spontaneous but perfectly synchronous ballet around the entrance to the park (I suppose that delight was due, in part, to the fact that they left nothing on my head). Grafton Street was sparkling with lights and ribbons and evergreen and holly.  This day was not like any other day. Nor would it bear resemblance to those yet to come.

I grew up near Underhill, Vermont, the home of one of my local New England heroes, Snowflake Bentley.  A pioneer in the craft of photographing delicate flakes, he finally advanced a theory: no two of these snow crystals are alike.  So far, no one has been able to disprove his theory.  He called the uniqueness of snowflakes "little miracles."  Other scientists, while uncomfortable with his theological overtones, could not dispute the awesome theory he advanced, a creativity beyond mathematics, impossible to comprehend, all taking place within a fraction of an inch.

You can look out on a field of snow and see white.  Sad, monochromist perspective.  You can also look out on the same field and see a quadrillion miracles.

Whether it be snowflakes or days of our lives, the person who took my money at Carluccio's gave me a lot to ponder, here on the threshold of Advent.  Every day is a miracle: seasons, colours, songs, flights of birds – they all advance the mystery.  Each nuance of life is a point of inspiration, a dawning of wonder.  And here we are, poised to enter a new Year of Grace.  It will not be like last year, from the very second we awake.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Door of Humility

I've never been to the Holy Land, but I've heard that, in Bethlehem, there is a very small opening of stone that serves as the ancient portal to the Church of the Nativity.  For centuries, that doorway has been called the "Door of Humility," for in order to enter you must, by mere necessity, bow down very low.

It may not be as ancient, and certainly not as prestigious, but in order to make your way to the place where I work and dwell, you must also enter what I've come to call my own "Door of Humility."

As you stand in front of the entrance to Newman's University Church on St. Stephen's Green (and be advised if you wish to visit – you can walk by this facade and not even know you've passed the church), as I said, as you stand there you can see, to the left, a set of heavy wooden double doors, painted black.  These doors can be opened with great labour, and a long tunnel greets you, a tunnel that goes underneath the building to the east: Newman House, maintained by University College Dublin, the place where Blessed John Henry taught.  It's also the place, by the way, where the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins passed away.

But back to the doors and the tunnel: the double doors were seldom opened, usually when the priests and their guests came in by horseback.  There are still metal rings in the inner courtyard walls that point to this practice, the places where horses were tied.  In order to make pedestrian passage easier, a small, lower door was built into the larger set.  It's only about three feet high, occupying the lower half.

So each day, as I go out and come home, I must bow and bend low.  Whether I'm about to meet a new composer or church musician, whether I'm coming home with things from the grocer (I want American peanut butter back in my life!), whether I'm conferring with a priest or religious who wants to "mark my card," (Irish for "giving counsel") – in all these settings and so many more, I must exit and enter by stooping low in order that other things might be achieved.

Our friends and guests who've visited us thus far are amused and delighted by this portal.  Eilish, our parish secretary, calls it something far less glamorous: she calls it the "donkey door."  My wife sometimes refers to it as the "hobbit door."

But for me, it will always be the "Door of Humility," a reminder that not all I want to accomplish can be done on my own terms or on my own timeline.  There are greater forces at work here, and my best stance, more often than not, needs must be a posture of bowing down and bending low, that I might understand completely the holy ground upon which I walk.