chicken à la candle

I forgot to enter this little memory, Heather frying chicken during our first power outage of the winter. We were also decorating our $5 Christmas tree then, in the fading daylight, hoping that the power would come back on and bring it to life just as we hung the last ornament.

No such luck.  But we got to fire it up the next morning.


I'm getting my haiku in just under the wire this year. But maybe that's okay since it's supposed to be from the babe's point of view and he didn't arrive until Christmas day too. It's been a pretty confusing year for us. But I can say I feel God's presence now, like in the poem. That's reassuring.

(Here are some previous years' haikus.)


just keep trying

I want to add this quote by Simone Weil to the ones from last week:

That action is good which we are able to accomplish while keeping our attention and intention totally directed towards pure and impossible goodness, without veiling from ourselves by any falsehood either the attraction or the impossibility of pure goodness.

I've been struggling more with those thoughts about not focusing on results or effectiveness or "success" (or not being discouraged by the lack of these). And also the previous thoughts about my life, who I am, not being defined by "the collection of accomplishments (or failures) and experiences and possessions and relationships we have gathered." And it seems to have brought me back to a focus on intention, which Weil mentions.

In human society, it's results that are important (often no matter how you get them). But it seems clear from Jesus' teaching that God cares about intention, not results. It's what happens in the human heart, the will, that matters to God. That is where we submit and accept, or turn ourselves against God's way. That is the only thing we have to offer to God.

And this fits with the acknowledgment that what happens, i.e. results, are in God's hands, not ours. So much stands between what we intend and what we are actually able to accomplish. So many factors, resources, people, are out of our control, yet they greatly impact the results or success of what we attempt. Maybe reaching middle age makes me more aware of the vast difference between what people intend and what actually happens, the severe limitations of human endeavors. Only God is greater than human failings.

I find this also bringing me back to Jesus' focus on intention, and trusting God to ensure a just and sufficient (even abundant) outcome. Weil echos Jesus in urging us to even turn our intention toward the impossible, attempt "pure and impossible goodness." The sermon on the mount shows Jesus teaching this very thing. But if we know it's impossible, how can we possibly try? If we know we will not succeed, experiencing failure after failure, not just in ourselves but in everyone, how can we not give up on the attempt?

Because it's not success or accomplishment that God wants from us. God can produce all the results, all the justice or abundance or peace that is needed at any time. What God asks of us is to will goodness, love, to will in harmony with God's will. God asks us to keep our attention and intention directed toward true and impossible goodness, not because we think we can accomplish it, but because we long to see God accomplish it and have faith that he will accomplish it.

In other words, God wants us to try. Just keep trying. Even though it is impossible, and we are failing, and everyone we know is failing. We will not accomplish the goodness we intend, but God will accomplish it. And if we are to stay with him we must keep trying and believe. That's all God asks of us. To stay with him.



through the dry season

I just sent out this retreat update letter...


Like much of the country, we experienced a severe drought this summer. The cornfields around us seemed to suffer the worst, but our crops also required continual watering, fruits and vegetables were fewer and smaller (though sometimes noticeably sweeter), and even the trees struggled. We also saw fewer retreat guests this year. Staffing and personal difficulties caused some of our usual visitors to stay home this summer, so they were spared the sight of our browning grass and drooping leaves.

But God cared for us during this dry season. Last winter Heather felt inspired to move away from the heavy commercial gardening she had been doing for the farm and develop a smaller community garden instead. Everything she grew was then given away to neighbors and friends here (and also some to friends in Chicago). A smaller garden patch turned out to be much, much better when the rain stopped coming. And some out-of-town friends ended up spending much of the summer here, giving Heather lots of help. The harvest was good. And then, at the end of the season, the gratitude of our community was expressed by generous donations for a rototiller that Heather had been dreaming about. So her work will be a little easier next summer (and hopefully graced with a little more water from on high).

One of our elderly neighbors faced some new struggles this year as well. After a couple falls, he found himself in need of regular assistance. I happened to be more available than usual, so I offered to start helping with much of his daily care. With the support of many others in the community also, he's able to continue to live here at home.

This month we were glad to have a group from Su Casa Catholic Worker come for a retreat, to support their work with immigrant families in need in Chicago. And we expect to host an Emmaus Ministries retreat again this winter. We keep praying for all who have come to share with us, and for those who will come.

That God will stay close and sustain us all through the dry seasons.


"not a relationship of cause and effect"

I was reminded this morning of some quotes that have meant a lot to me in the past, and now they speak well to my current thoughts and concerns. The first is from a letter by Thomas Merton (written in 1966, three years before his death):

Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.
The second is from John Howard Yoder's The Politics of Jesus:
The key to the obedience of God’s people is not their effectiveness but their patience. The triumph of the right is assured not by the might that comes to the aid of the right, which is of course the justification of the use of violence and the other kinds of power in every human conflict; the triumph of the right, although it is assured, is sure because of the power of the resurrection and not because of any calculation of causes and effects, nor because of the inherently greater strength of the good guys.

The relationship between the obedience of God’s people and the triumph of God’s cause is not a relationship of cause and effect but one of cross and resurrection.

As Yoder points out, the clearest example of this is Jesus' choice of turning toward Jerusalem and the cross. Toward the impossible, toward a challenge he had no chance of conquering. And yet.

I think this only makes sense in light of God's true purpose. Which is to draw us to himself. Ministries that "succeed" or produce admirable results through the hard work and organization and gathered resources of human beings may indeed offer many worthy benefits, but instead of drawing us into deeper relationship and dependence on God they stir our admiration and dependence on human capabilities. When, however, like Jesus on the cross, our human weakness and failure is made clear, and yet.... When it is made clear that, in our helplessness, deliverance comes from God, then we are drawn to cling to him (to be held by him) more closely.

It has been harder for me to remember that when I have more resources and possibilities available to me. Apparently I start to think that somehow the situation has changed. That I should be able to be effective now, or make good things happen now, since I have more that can work for me. But nothing has changed. To think that such meager resources should make any significant difference is ridiculous. It is only God's power that makes any difference, and next to that any power that we might gather adds nothing.

God's triumph, and the enduring presence of his kingdom, is assured. But not because of my obedience or my resources. I must be obedient not because the outcome stands in the balance, but because obedience is just another aspect of clinging to God.


take five

I heard Dave Brubeck just died. So I took another listen to "Take Five." Pretty great. I remember my dad playing that song on the record player when I was a kid. It's the only jazz song I can play on the recorder, too.


Some folks from the Su Casa Catholic Worker house in Chicago are with us for a retreat this weekend, taking a break from the city...