Saturday, January 30, 2021

January 30: Top of this Wooded Mountain, Writing Prompts, "Stealing a Last Line from Keith Taylor"

Merton writes a bad book . . . 

The books we took back to the cottage were hardly opened all summer: but anyway, they were there, lying around, in case we needed something to read. But really they were not necessary: for we eventually found places that proved very suitable for our typewriters, and all started writing novels. Rice wrote a novel called The Blue Horse. It took him about ten days. It was about a hundred and fifty pages long, illustrated. Lax wrote several fragments of novels which presently coalesced into one called The Spangled Palace. But the thing I got started on grew longer and longer and longer and eventually it was about five hundred pages long, and was called first Straits of Dover and then The Night Before the Battle, and then The Labyrinth. In its final form, it was shorter, and had been half rewritten, and it went to several publishers but to my great sorrow never got printed—at least I was sorry about it in those days, but now I am full of self-congratulation at the fact that those pages escaped the press. 

It was partly autobiographical, and therefore it took in some of the ground that this present book had covered: but it took in much more of the ground that I have avoided covering this time. Besides, I found the writing of it easier and more amusing if I mixed up a lot of imaginary characters in my own story. It is a pleasant way to write. When the truth got dull, I could create a diversion with a silly man called Terence Metrotone. I later changed him to Terence Park, after I showed the first draft of the book to my uncle, who abashed me by concluding that Terence Metrotone was a kind of an acrostic for myself.  That was, as a matter of fact, very humiliating, because I had made such a fool of the character. 

The mere pleasure of sitting on top of this wooded mountain, with miles of country and cloudless sky to look at, and birds to listen to all day, and the healthy activity of writing page after page of novel, out under a tree facing the garage, made those weeks happy ones, in a natural sort of a way. 

Merton enjoys this time, living in a cabin with two writer friends at the top of a mountain, each one of them pounding away on their typewriters, trying to create art surrounded by "miles of country and cloudless sky."  Of course, Merton is trying to be self-important and intellectual.  He hasn't surrendered his worldly ambitions and ego yet.

Two nights ago, I got together with one of my best friends and writing buds.  We spent a couple hours responding to some writing prompts I'd come up with, based on poems from a beautiful new chapbook of poems by Keith Taylor--Let Them Be Left:  Isle Royale Poems.  (Yes, this is a shameless plug, but the book is astonishingly gorgeous.)  It was a wonderful evening after a long week of grant-writing for the library.  And I got about the drafts of four new poems out of our time spent together.  A miracle.

So, this Saturday evening, I give thanks for the miracle of writing and beautiful books by talented writers.  For inspiration and good friends.

Saint Marty is filled with gratitude.

A poem I wrote that night . . .

Stealing a Last Line from Keith Taylor

by:  Martin Achatz

(last line of "From the Bluff," Let Them Be Left:  Isle Royale Poems)

Morning darkness, I stand
ankle-deep in snow. My dog
noses through cold and white
while I stare up at a moon
veiled in winter cloud.

The world shrinks, expands
at once, as if we are
the only two living beings
left—my dog and me.
As if we stand at some
seismic moment, just before
the fatal comet crashes down
or after the universe contracts

into a tight fist that will blossom
into creation. I know
here, at the cusp of dawn,
everything will soon start
to stretch and yawn.

I see a flash of movement.
A rabbit sprints to a berm
of hibernating lilacs, disappears
into the earth, to its warren
of waiting, hungry kits.

I cannot believe our world is dying.

Friday, January 29, 2021

January 29: Most Orderly and Peaceful, Many Jobs, Work for a Library

 Merton takes a trip to the library . . . 

When the summer came I sub-let the apartment on Perry Street to Seymour’s wife and went up-state, into the hills behind Olean. Lax’s brother-in-law had a cottage, on top of a hill, from which you could see miles over New York and Pennsylvania—miles of blue hill-tops and wooded ridges, miles of forest smudged here and there, in the dry weeks, with smoke, and gashed open, in the neighboring valley, by the lumbermen. All day and all night the silence of the wood was broken by the coughing of oil-pumps, and when you passed through the trees you could see long metal arms moving back and forth clumsily in the shadows of the glade, because the hills were full of oil. 

So Benjie, Lax’s brother-in-law, gave us this place, and let us live there, trusting more than he should have in our ability to live in a house for more than a week without partially destroying it. 

Lax and I and Rice moved in to the cottage, and looked around for places to put our typewriters. There was one big room with a huge stone fireplace and the works of Rabelais and a table which we presently ruined, feeding ourselves on it with hamburgers and canned beans and untold quarts of milk. There was a porch which looked out over the hills and where we eventually erected a trapeze. It was very pleasant to sit on the step of this porch, and look at the valley in the quiet evening, and play the drums. We had a pair of bongos, a Cuban double-drum, which is played two-handed and gives several different tones, depending where and how you hit it. 

In order to make sure we would have plenty of books, we went down to the library at St. Bonaventure’s College where this time, being baptized, I was no longer scared of the Friars. The librarian was Father Irenaeus, who looked up at us through his glasses and recognized Lax with ingenuous surprise. He always seemed to be surprised and glad to see everybody. Lax introduced us to him: “This is Ed Rice, this is Tom Merton.” 

“Ah! Mr. Rice.... Mr. Myrtle.” Father Irenaeus took us both in, with the eyes of a rather bookish child, and shook hands without embarrassment. 

“Merton,” said Lax, “Tom Merton.” 

“Yes, glad to know you, Mr. Myrtle,” said Father Irenaeus. 

“They were at Columbia too,” said Lax. “Ah, Columbia,” said Father Irenaeus. “I studied at the Columbia Library School,” and then he took us into his own library and with reckless trust abandoned all the shelves to us. It never occurred to him to place any limit upon the appetites of those who seemed to like books. If they wanted books, well, this was a library. He had plenty of books, that was what a library was for. You could take as many as you liked, and keep them until you were through: he was astonishingly free of red tape, this happy little Franciscan. When I got to know the Friars a little better, I found out that this trait was fairly universal. Those who love rigid and methodical systems have their life of penance all cut out for them if they enter the Franciscans, and especially if they become superiors. But as far as I know, Father Irenaeus has never been robbed of his books on a larger scale than any other librarian, and on the whole, the little library at St. Bonaventure’s was always one of the most orderly and peaceful I have ever seen. 

Presently we came out of the stacks with our arms full. 

“May we take all these, Father?” 

“Sure, sure, that’s fine, help yourself.” 

We signed a vague sort of a ticket, and shook hands. 

“Good-bye, Mr. Myrtle,” said the Friar, and stood in the open door and folded his hands as we started down the steps with our spoils. 

I still did not know that I had discovered a place where I was going to find out something about happiness. 

Merton feels at home in the library at St. Bonaventure's.  I think there are two reasons for this.  First, he is surrounded by books, which have always been his best companions throughout his young life.  Second, he is surrounded by Franciscan monks.  Merton, even at this early stage in his faith, finds some kind of inner happiness and peace interacting with religious community life.  Books and monks are the key.

I've worked many jobs in my life.  Plumber's apprentice.  Busboy.  Bookstore clerk and cashier.  Teacher.  Professor.  Pipe organist.  Worship leader.  Janitor.  Health information clerk.  Medical office manager.  I've loved certain things about all of these jobs.  Enjoyed some more than others.

Having this many occupations has been a necessity more than a choice.  You see, I'm a poet.  There aren't too many jobs out there for those of my ilk.  For some reason, nobody wants to pay me to sit in a quiet room all day long and poetize.  Those days probably died with Chaucer.  There aren't any rich patrons out there who want poets on their payroll.  So, therefore, throughout my lifetime, I have always held down many jobs at once.

Now, I work for a library.  And it is amazing.  I am surrounded by books all day long.  I work with people who are concerned about things like making take-home art kits for kids and adults; answering research questions on family genealogy, ordering collections or poetry for the shelves, scheduling musical concerts.  In a lot of ways, librarians are a lot like people in religious communities.  There's a shared sense of purpose.  Everyone is all about knowledge and learning and art and making the world a better place through language and beauty.

So, it has taken me close to 40 years, but I have found a work place that completely coincides with my own passions and interests.  

Nothing is ideal, of course.  I still have daily problems.  Still have to hold down several jobs to pay the bills.  My son is still struggling with school.  My wife, with mental health and addiction issues.  I still have bills that I don't know how I'm going to pay.  My sister Rose went home from the hospital a few days ago, but she still has severe health challenges.

Yet, professionally, I am in a better place than I've ever been.  I like sitting in my library office every day, figuring out how to shed some light into the universe with poetry, music, art, learning.  On Saturday mornings, I get to the library very early.  Usually, I'm the first person in the building.  I climb the stairs to my second-floor office.  I take off my jacket, turn on my computer.  Then I sit down, look out the window, and watch the sunrise.  Darkness giving way to the pink and orange bruise of day.

The world is an amazing place.  Full of small and large miracles.  Poems.  Icicles burning with dawn.  New medications that will hopefully help to control my sister Rose's seizures and prolong her time with us.  Vaccines to combat a worldwide pandemic.  Coworkers to laugh with.  Friends to speak with.  Family to love with.  

Books to read.

Saint Marty is a pretty lucky guy.  He just needs to be reminded every once in a while.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

January 26: I Can't Be a Saint, Surrender to It, Wholly Weak and Fragile

 Merton learns what it takes to become a saint . . . 

I am not sure whether this conception of his necessarily implied a specific vocation, a definite and particular mission: but in any case, he assumed that it was the sort of thing that should be open to me, to Gibney, to Seymour, to Mark Van Doren, to some writers he admired, perhaps even to somebody who did not know how to talk, but could only play a trumpet or a piano. And it was open to himself also: but for himself, he was definitely waiting to be “sent.” 

In any case, although I had gone before him to the fountains of grace, Lax was much wiser than I, and had clearer vision, and was, in fact, corresponding much more truly to the grace of God than I, and he had seen what was the only important thing. I think he has told what he had to say to many people besides myself: but certainly his was one of the voices through which the insistent Spirit of God was determined to teach me the way I had to travel. 

Therefore, another one of those times that turned out to be historical, as far as my own soul is concerned, was when Lax and I were walking down Sixth Avenue, one night in the spring. The street was all torn up and trenched and banked high with dirt and marked out with red lanterns where they were digging the subway, and we picked our way along the fronts of the dark little stores, going downtown to Greenwich Village. I forget what we were arguing about, but in the end Lax suddenly turned around and asked me the question: 

“What do you want to be, anyway?” 

I could not say, “I want to be Thomas Merton the well-known writer of all those book reviews in the back pages of the Times Book Review,” or “Thomas Merton the assistant instructor of Freshman-English at the New Life Social Institute for Progress and Culture,” so I put the thing on the spiritual plane, where I knew it belonged and said: 

“I don’t know; I guess what I want is to be a good Catholic.” 

“What do you mean, you want to be a good Catholic?” 

The explanation I gave was lame enough, and expressed my confusion, and betrayed how little I had really thought about it at all. 

Lax did not accept it. 

“What you should say”—he told me—“what you should say is that you want to be a saint.” 

A saint! The thought struck me as a little weird. I said: 

“How do you expect me to become a saint?” 

“By wanting to,” said Lax, simply. 

“I can’t be a saint,” I said, “I can’t be a saint.” And my mind darkened with a confusion of realities and unrealities: the knowledge of my own sins, and the false humility which makes men say that they cannot do the things that they must do, cannot reach the level that they must reach: the cowardice that says: “I am satisfied to save my soul, to keep out of mortal sin,” but which means, by those words: “I do not want to give up my sins and my attachments.” 

But Lax said: “No. All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don’t you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let Him do it? All you have to do is desire it.” 

A long time ago, St. Thomas Aquinas had said the same thing—and it is something that is obvious to everybody who ever understood the Gospels. After Lax was gone, I thought about it, and it became obvious to me. 

The next day I told Mark Van Doren: 

“Lax is going around saying that all a man needs to be a saint is to want to be one.” 

“Of course,” said Mark. 

All these people were much better Christians than I. They understood God better than I. What was I doing? Why was I so slow, so mixed up, still, so uncertain in my directions and so insecure? 

So at great cost I bought the first volume of the Works of St. John of the Cross and sat in the room on Perry Street and turned over the first pages, underlining places here and there with a pencil. But it turned out that it would take more than that to make me a saint: because these words I underlined, although they amazed and dazzled me with their import, were all too simple for me to understand. They were too naked, too stripped of all duplicity and compromise for my complexity, perverted by many appetites. However, I am glad that I was at least able to recognize them, obscurely, as worthy of the greatest respect. 

Merton's friend, Lax, seems to have a really simple way to become a saint:  you just have to want to be one.

It's all about recognizing the desire and surrendering to it.

I wonder if everything is that simple.  All you have to do is admit a desire and then surrender to it.  By that logic, I would have dated Claire Danes a long time ago.  I'd be a Nobel Prize-winning poet and have the net-worth of Jeff Bezos.  Instead of a tiny house in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I'd be living in a mansion on Kauai.  

Yet, here I am, sitting in a dark living room at midnight, typing a blog post that I will send out into the world in a little while, not knowing if or when or how anyone will read it.  I will never win a Nobel for my "transcendent wisdom and beauty in the ethers of the social media universe."  I teach as a contingent English professor, and am currently worrying about how I'm going to pay for the brake job on my car.

Am I a saint?  Even though I've written 4,888 posts for a blog called Saint Marty, I am no closer to being a saint than Donald Trump.  (Okay, maybe a little closer than him.)  I am too vain to be a saint.  I like dirty jokes.  Drink, on occasion, to excess.  Get angry frequently.  Depressed frequently.  Argue with God frequently.  And my Christmas decorations are still up.

Do I want to be a saint?  Well, I want to make the world a better place.  I want the polar icecap to stop melting.  Want the entire planet to have the COVID-19 vaccine.  Homelessness and hunger to be eradicated.  A World Poet Laureate would be nice.  How about doing away with racism and sexism and misogyny and homophobia and xenophobia and Islamophobia?  Clean water and renewable energy sources all over the globe.  My son to do his homework.  

I want all of that.  Surrender to it.  Does that make me a saint?  A dreamer?  A fool?  

I'm imperfect, like any human being.  I accept that truth.  Embrace it.  As a Christian, I believe that God became human once.  Took on skin and muscle and bone.  Got hungry.  Sick.  Maybe fell in love with a person who didn't love him back.  Some people thought he was a prophet.  Some, the messiah.  Others thought he was a dreamer and fool.  A heretic and enemy.  In the gospel narratives, he is wholly weak and fragile.  And wholly divine.

That tells me that, even with all my flaws and failings (and there are MANY), I can still be an agent for good in the universe.  Can make a difference.  

I surrender to that.

Maybe Marty is on his way to canonization, after all.

Monday, January 25, 2021

January 25: My Own Wisdom and Talents, Nobel Prize, Classroom Miracle

 Merton contemplates his vocation as a writer . . . 

In November 1938, I acquired a sudden facility for rough, raw Skeltonic verses—and that lasted about a month, and died. They were not much, but one of them took a prize which it did not deserve. But now I had many kinds of sounds ringing in my ears and they sometimes asked to get on paper. When their rhythms and tones followed Andrew Marvell, the results were best. I always liked Marvell; he did not mean as much to me as Donne or Crashaw (when Crashaw wrote well) but nevertheless there was something about his temper for which I felt a special personal attraction. His moods were more clearly my own than Crashaw’s or even Donne’s. 

When I lived on Perry Street, it was hard to write poems. The lines came slow, and when it was all done, there were very few of them. They were generally rhymed iambic tetrameter, and because I was uneasy with any rhyme that sounded hackneyed, rhyming was awkward and sometimes strange. 

I would get an idea, and walk around the streets, among the warehouses, towards the poultry market at the foot of Twelfth Street, and I would go out on the chicken dock trying to work out four lines of verse in my head, and sit in the sun. And after I had looked at the fireboats and the old empty barges and the other loafers and the Stevens Institute on its bluff across the river in Hoboken, I would write the poem down on a piece of scrap paper and go home and type it out. 

I usually sent it at once to some magazine. How many envelopes I fed to the green mailbox at the corner of Perry Street just before you got to Seventh Avenue! And everything I put in there came back—except for the book reviews. 

The more I failed, the more I was convinced that it was important for me to have my work printed in magazines like the Southern Review or Partisan Review or the New Yorker. My chief concern was now to see myself in print. It was as if I could not be quite satisfied that I was real until I could feed my ambition with these trivial glories, and my ancient selfishness was now matured and concentrated in this desire to see myself externalized in a public and printed and official self which I could admire at my ease. This was what I really believed in: reputation, success. I wanted to live in the eyes and the mouths and the minds of men. I was not so crude that I wanted to be known and admired by the whole world: there was a certain naive satisfaction in the idea of being only appreciated by a particular minority, which gave a special fascination to this urge within me. But when my mind was absorbed in all that, how could I lead a supernatural life, the life to which I was called? How could I love God, when everything I did was done not for Him but for myself, and not trusting in His aid, but relying on my own wisdom and talents? 

Lax rebuked me for all this. His whole attitude about writing was purified of such stupidity, and was steeped in holiness, in charity, in disinterestedness. Characteristically he conceived the function of those who knew how to write, and who had something to say, in terms of the salvation of society. Lax’s picture of America—before which he has stood for twelve years with his hands hanging in helplessness at his sides—is the picture of a country full of people who want to be kind and pleasant and happy and love good things and serve God, but do not know how. And they do not know where to turn to find out. They are surrounded by all kinds of sources of information which only conspire to bewilder them more and more. And Lax’s vision is a vision of the day when they will turn on the radio and somebody will start telling them what they have really been wanting to hear and needing to know. They will find somebody who is capable of telling them of the love of God in language that will no longer sound hackneyed or crazy, but with authority and conviction: the conviction born of sanctity. 

Merton seeks glory through his writing.  Not international acclaim.  He doesn't want to be popular to the masses.  He wants to be admired by the intellectually elite.  Readers of The New YorkerPartisan Review.  People who look down on simplicity.  Who devote themselves to self-promotion instead of spiritual devotion.  Merton wants to be a Nobel Prize winner, not a saint.

I understand this version of Merton.  For as long as I can remember, I've been rehearsing my Nobel acceptance speech to deliver in front of the King of Sweden.  Imagined being in the heart of Columbia University, taking home my Pulitzer Prize.  Dreamed of going to my mailbox, finding a royalty check that will pay for a vacation to Disney World.  In short, I have been just as shallow as the young Merton.

I won't say that I've outgrown these ambitions.  They still haunt me, as they do any writer.  Regardless of the popular stereotype of poets, we want to be read and loved.  The idea that we're all Emily Dickinsons, scribbling away in our rooms, sewing our poems into little books that will never be seen by human eyes until after we're dead--well, that notion is pretty much rubbish.  Writing is like holding out a hand on the playground, hoping to find a new friend.  We all want to be King of the Hill, Lord of the Monkey Bars.

But only 117 people have won the Nobel Prize in Literature in its 119-year history.  That makes my chances of being called a Nobel Laureate pretty slim.  And what are titles anyway?  Do they make a person better?  I would say that they just amplify who you are to begin with.  If you were an asshole before winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, you will be a flaming asshole after winning.  Spotlights intensify; they don't purify.

Today, I taught a composition class at the university.  A group of undergraduates who looked about as engaged as parishioners in a church pew on a Sunday morning after a night at the bars.  They didn't want to be there.  Couldn't have cared less about what I was saying, even though I've been Poet Laureate of the Upper Peninsula for the past four years and have received the Excellence in Part-Time Faculty Teaching Award.  Titles mean nothing to these kids.

I read these students a poem about nature today.  About disconnecting from iPhone screens in order to reconnect with the world.  Then one of my students stood up and read a journal entry he'd written about witnessing a sunrise over Lake Superior, a moment when, just as the sun entered the sky, the entire world exploded with birdsong.  His hands that were holding his notebook were shaking.  I could tell that what he was sharing was important to him.  Earth-shattering.  And it was electric.

For me, that is the greatest gift of being a writer.  Those raw instances of truth.  This student was baring his soul to everyone in that room.  It was real and important and holy.

Saint Marty gives thanks being a witness to that classroom miracle.  It was better than any Nobel Prize ceremony.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

January 24: Communion Two Days in a Row, Bernie Sanders Memes, My Sister Rose

Merton lives the life of an "intellectual" . . . 

The end of January came. I remember, when I took my exams for the M.A., I went to Communion two days in a row, and both days I was very happy, and also I did quite well in the examinations. So after that I thought it was necessary for me to go to Bermuda for a week, and sit in the sun, and go swimming, and ride bicycles along those empty white roads, rediscovering the sights and smells that had belonged to a year of my early childhood. I met a lot of people who liked to ride around all night in a carriage singing: “Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah—strumming on the old banjo.” The weather was so good that I came back to New York brown and full of health, with my pocket full of snapshots of the strangers with whom I had been dancing and sailing in yachts. And I was just in time to see Bramachari leave for India, at last, on the Rex. He was sailing with the Cardinals who were off to elect the new Pope. 

Then I went to Greenwich Village and signed a lease for a one-room apartment and started work on my Ph.D. I suppose the apartment on Perry Street was part of the atmosphere appropriate to an intellectual such as I imagined myself to be and, as a matter of fact, I felt much more important in this large room with a bath and fireplace and French windows leading out on to a rickety balcony than I had felt in the little place ten feet wide behind the Columbia Library. Besides, I now had a shiny new telephone all my own which rang with a deep, discreet, murmuring sort of a bell as if to invite me suavely to expensive and sophisticated pursuits. 

I don’t, as a matter of fact, remember anything very important happening over that telephone, except that I used to make dates with a nurse who was stationed in one of the clinics out at the World’s Fair which opened that year on Flushing Meadows. Also, it was the occasion of a series of furiously sarcastic letters to the telephone company because of various kinds of troubles, mechanical and financial. 

The one I most talked to, over this phone, was Lax. He had a phone which did not even cost him anything, for he was living in the Hotel Taft, tutoring the children of the manager, and having access to an ice-box full of cold chicken at all hours of the day and night. The two principal items of news which he communicated to me, from his point of vantage, were, first, the appearance of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake and, second, the election of Pope Pius XII. 

It was one of those first spring mornings when the new, warm sun is full of all kinds of delights, that I heard about the Pope. I had been sitting on the balcony in a pair of blue dungarees, drinking Coca-Cola, and getting the sun. When I say sitting on the balcony, I mean sitting on the good boards and letting my feet dangle through the place where the boards had broken. This was what I did a great deal of the time, in the mornings, that spring: surveying Perry Street from the east, where it ran up short against a block of brick apartments, to the west, where it ended at the river, and you could see the black funnels of the Anchor liners. 

When I wasn’t sitting on this balcony doing nothing, I was in the room, in the deepest armchair, studying the letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins and his Notebooks and trying to figure out various manuals on prosody and covering little white index cards with notes. For it was my plan to write a Ph.D. dissertation on Hopkins. 

The typewriter that was always open on the desk was sometimes busy when I got a book to review: for I had been doing occasional reviews for the Sunday book sections of the Times and Herald Tribune. But what was better, I sometimes managed to grind out, with labor and anguish, some kind of a poem. 

I had never been able to write verse before I became a Catholic. I had tried, but I had never really succeeded, and it was impossible to keep alive enough ambition to go on trying. I had started once or twice at Oakham, and I had written two or three miserable things at Cambridge. At Columbia, when I thought I was a Red, I got one stupid idea for a poem, about workers working on a dock and bombing planes flying overhead—you know: ominous. When it got on paper it was so silly that not even the magazines on the Fourth Floor would print it. The only other verse I had ever been able to turn out before my Baptism was an occasional line for the Jester

Baptism seems to have worked miracles in Merton's life.  Going to Church, studying literature, gives him purpose and energy.  Although he still hasn't fully surrendered himself to God's will, he is still able to accomplish things that his previous hedonistic life never allowed--including writing poems.  Baptism and Communion and Mass bring about a change in Merton, inching him toward the religious life he would later adopt.

Since the Presidential Inauguration last Wednesday, I have noticed a new kind of energy in the air.  A lightness that hasn't existed for about four years.  We, in the United States, have lived through a time characterized by meanness of spirit, absence of compassion, and ignorance of truth.  I have lived through the administrations of nine presidencies, Republicans and Democrats.  I haven't always agreed with the politics or policies of these leaders.  However, I never questioned their basic human decency.

Now, in these first days since President Biden took office, there has been a popular meme of Bernie Sanders dominating social media.  It's Bernie Sanders at the inauguration, in mittens and hat.  Looking like the old, hippy grandpa at Thanksgiving dinner who will speak his mind no matter what.  Confession:  I love Bernie Sanders.  Love the fact that his message has never changed from day one:  he wants a world where everyone is taken care of.  Everyone has healthcare.  Everyone makes a living wage.  Everyone pays their fair share of taxes, with the wealthiest paying the most, as it should be.

Bernie Sanders' presence at the inauguration on Wednesday was a reminder to everyone that there are people in Washington, D. C., and the world, who will fight for what is right and humane, no matter what.

Yesterday, I read a Facebook post about the wave of Bernie memes that has stormed the Internet.  It was written by person named Robin Tala.  Here is a part of what Robin said:

If Biden's inauguration is our relief, then Bernie is our cleaning.  He's basically a giant smudging, clearing the malevolent energy & ushering a new time of recommitment to our values of peace & justice.

. . . 

All this struck a deep chord in our society's psyche & heart space and we all bowed and venerated him [Bernie Sanders] with our love, humor, & joy.

It's so beautiful to witness this collective online ritual of relief, especially when we cannot be together to celebrate in person.

THANK YOU to Bernie Sanders, for being the elder that we need in our culture, the curmudgeonly revolutionary uncle, the warrior for justice, the guardian of our culture's inherent commitment to care & solidarity.

You give us all so much hope & strength to keep on marching for the future we KNOW is possible.

My sister, Rose, is still in the hospital.  They've changed her medications, and she has been showing a little improvement.  That is a miracle.  Rose, for me, sort of represents what is good in the world.  She's loving, kind, gentle.  Always happy to see me, even if she can't remember who I am and calls me by my brother's name.  She, like Bernie, is a smudging, as well, clearing out all the meanness, all the darkness of the world.  

And Bernie Sanders would love Rose.  I know this in my heart.  He would want her cared and provided for.  That's what we should all want.  To help everyone, no matter how poor or how sick or how in need.

Saint Marty gives thanks the miracle of Bernie memes tonight.  And his sister Rose.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

January 23: Cause of Wars, Self-Loathing, War on Myself

Merton figures out the cause of war . . . 

The night before being New Year’s Eve, we had had a party in the house of Seymour’s mother-in-law, who was a doctor, in Long Beach. It had been a mixed-up, desultory affair, in which we remained in a place that served as the doctor’s waiting-room, sitting on the floor, playing different kinds of drums and drinking I forget what. But whatever it was we drank it put me in a bad temper. 

The only person in the place not more or less fed up with everything was Bramachari, who had taken his turban off and sat in a chair and did not mind the noise. Later on, however, John Slate, who was also in a bad mood, having had a tooth torn out of his head, tried to tie me up in Bramachari’s turban so the monk quietly went home—that is, to Seymour’s house—and slept. 

Later on, I threw a can of pineapple juice at a street light and also went to bed. I was sleeping in the same room with Bramachari, and consequently when it began to get light, he sat up and started chanting his morning prayers and I woke up. Since I could not get back to sleep even when his prayers trailed off into contemplation, I was going to an earlier Mass than I had expected. But it was a good thing. As usual, I found out that the only good thing about such days, or any other days, was Mass. 

What a strange thing that I did not see how much that meant, and come at last to the realization that it was God alone I was supposed to live for, God that was supposed to be the center of my life and of all that I did. 

It was to take me nearly a year to untangle that truth from all my disorganized and futile desires: and sometimes it seems to me that the hangovers I had while I was finding it out had something to do with what was going on in the history of the world. 

For that was to be 1939, the year when the war that everybody had been fearing finally began to teach us with its inexorable logic that the dread of war is not enough. If you don’t want the effect, do something to remove the causes. There is no use loving the cause and fearing the effect and being surprised when the effect inevitably follows the cause. 

By this time, I should have acquired enough sense to realize that the cause of wars is sin. If I had accepted the gift of sanctity that had been put in my hands when I stood by the font in November 1938, what might have happened in the world? People have no idea what one saint can do: for sanctity is stronger than the whole of hell. The saints are full of Christ in the plenitude of His Kingly and Divine power: and they are conscious of it, and they give themselves to Him, that He may exercise His power through their smallest and seemingly most insignificant acts, for the salvation of the world. 

But the world did not get very much of that out of me. 

The cause of war is sin.  I could agree with that, depending on how you define sin.  Certainly, war is a direct result of one group of people dehumanizing another group of people.  You can only think of exterminating a large population of individuals if those individuals are seen as less than human.  That's how Adolf Hitler did it.  George W. Bush did it in Iraq.  Donald Trump did it in the United States with illegal immigrants and LGTBQ citizens and any person who disagreed with him.  Democrats.  Scientists.  Journalists.  Anyone who told the truth.

I'm not talking about Donald Trump here, though.  Or Adolf Hitler or George W. Bush.  People declare war on things and people every day, because people sin every day.  I know I do.  Get angry.  Disappoint.  Fail.  That's the nature of being human.  We are all flawed creatures, and we take those flaws out on each other.

Went to work at the library this morning.  Four hours laboring away on a $20,000 government grant.  I made quite a bit of headway.  However, it wasn't enough.  I failed meeting the goal I set for myself.  If this sounds like I'm declaring war on myself, I guess I am.  Self-loathing comes pretty naturally to me.

I played the pipe organ for Mass this evening.  Screwed up one of the songs.  More self-loathing.  Ate too much pizza for dinner.  Thinking about going to the fridge and eating another piece right now.  Self-loathing again.  Didn't grade any student diagnostic writings.  Staying up way too late.  Got angry with God over my sister Rose's health struggles.  Self-loathing all 'round.

Of course, declaring war on yourself all day long is not very healthy.  It leads to exhaustion and, at the same time, insomnia.  That's pretty much where I am right now.  I've tried watching movies.  Reading books I love.  Reading books I hate.  Staring at my Christmas tree.  (Yes, I still have my Christmas tree up.  Don't judge me.)  And sitting in darkness.

Every time I close my eyes, I start thinking of my sister, Rose, in the hospital.  Or all the things I have to do tomorrow.  Anticipating how I will fail yet again.  This is my state of mind these days.  There are some other personal struggles that contribute to this, as well.  Things that weigh on me.

Of course, this war is of my own making, as most wars are.  This sleeplessness is due to my own obsessions.  I need to declare an armistice.  Sign a Treaty of Acceptance.  To forgive my shortcomings.  Be kinder to myself.  Know that I love and am loved.  Place my sister, Rose, in God's hands.

That is how I will sleep tonight.  Repeating those statements.  A mantra.  Lullaby.  Prayer.

Saint Marty is far from perfect. You all know that.  It's in imperfection that grace enters in.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

January 21: Grey Morning, End of Life, Grace and Light

 Merton's year starts badly . . . 

The first morning of 1939 was a grey morning.  It was to turn out a grey year—very grey. But now a cold wind was blowing in off the sea, where I walked, among the white empty houses to the naked place where stands the church of St. Ignatius Martyr. The wind did something to help me to wake up, but it did not improve my temper much. The new year was beginning badly. 

I'm not a big believer in bad luck, and neither was Merton.  Just because a year starts out with, say, a violent insurrection in the United States Capitol Building doesn't mean that a nuclear apocalypse is on the horizon.  That's not how the universe works.  Bad luck is a human creation, used to explain a series of unfortunate events, to borrow a phrase from one of my daughter's favorite children's authors.

Yes, there was an insurrection.  But a week later, there were federal arrests and an impeachment.  And yesterday, a new President of the United States was sworn into office, and this one spoke of unity and healing in his inaugural address.  Plus, a young, amazing poet practically hijacked the entire ceremony with her inaugural poem.  

So, you see, even if a year begins with grey mornings, the sun will eventually break through.

Grey morning today.  I got a call about my sister Rose, who's in the hospital right now.  She has Down syndrome and has been suffering a series of grand mal seizures for about a week now.  The neurologist who is treating Rose informed my other sister (who is Rose's durable power of attorney) that seizures are not uncommon in a person with Trisomy 21 and Alzheimer's.  The doctor said something along the lines of seizures and Alzheimer's "starting at end of life."  

Now, I'm not sure what that means.  It could have been the neurologist's way of saying that there's not a whole lot he can do.  He is referring Rose to a pediatric neurologist, because she is tiny.  Certainly, the medications that Rose is taking aren't doing the trick.  Last night, she suffered another grand mal seizure when she was alone in her hospital room.

Rose is sleeping all day.  Not responding to people.  When my sister talks to her, Rose will open her eyes and look at her.  Then she goes right back to sleep.  Tonight, the nurse couldn't get her to take her anti-seizure meds.  Rose wouldn't wake up.

As I said, I don't believe in bad luck.  However, I am a firm believer in miracles.  I've benefitted from miracles in the past.  Right now, my sister Rose needs a miracle.  Her little body and brain have been through a lot.  I'm not sure how much more she can take.  

I don't have much more to add.  Rose is a gentle soul, full of love.  She deserves some grace and light.  

That's Saint Marty's hope tonight.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

January 17: Joys and Delights, No Answers, Rose

 Merton provides some instructions to live by . . . 

Above all, eat your daily Bread without which you cannot live, and come to know Christ Whose Life feeds you in the Host, and He will give you a taste of joys and delights that transcend anything you have ever experienced before, and which will make the transition easy.

It was a weekend of church for me.  Last night, I played the pipe organ for the evening Mass.  Received Communion.  This morning, I played a Lutheran worship service, and then I attended a virtual Episcopal service.  I feel fed, for sure.  Blessed.

I didn't want to go to bed tonight without providing some updates on my sister, Rose.  Unfortunately, I don't have much of an update to give.  She is still in the hospital.  No tests were done today.  She's been sleeping since she was admitted, according to my sister who is with her.  No more grand mal seizures, just "some twitching and jerking through the night."  She's on some IV medications, I assume to keep her hydrated and control her seizures.  Tomorrow, she will have an EEG.  Maybe an MRI.

So, I have no answers.  Only the good news that Rose hasn't had any more major seizures.  That is a miracle.  Answered prayer.  And I know that a lot of people have been praying.

That's all I have to offer this evening.  I am still in the limbo of not knowing anything, which is never a comfortable place for me.  I sort of like being in control of things.  This one, however, is out of my hands.  Rose is resting.  Tests tomorrow.  Hopefully something more definitive to report.

Saint Marty is going to bed now.  He will say a prayer for his sister.  For rest and healing.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

January 16: Sacrifice Your Pleasures, Open Doors, My Sister

 Merton learns something about sacrifice . . . 

But the conversion of the intellect is not enough. And as long as the will, the domina voluntas, did not belong completely to God, even the intellectual conversion was bound to remain precarious and indefinite. For although the will cannot force the intellect to see an object other than it is, it can turn it away from the object altogether, and prevent it from considering that thing at all. 

Where was my will? “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” and I had not laid up any treasures for myself in heaven. They were all on earth. I wanted to be a writer, a poet, a critic, a professor. I wanted to enjoy all kinds of pleasures of the intellect and of the senses and in order to have these pleasures I did not hesitate to place myself in situations which I knew would end in spiritual disaster—although generally I was so blinded by my own appetites that I never even clearly considered this fact until it was too late, and the damage was done. 

Of course, as far as my ambitions went, their objects were all right in themselves. There is nothing wrong in being a writer or a poet—at least I hope there is not: but the harm lies in wanting to be one for the gratification of one’s own ambitions, and merely in order to bring oneself up to the level demanded by his own internal self-idolatry. Because I was writing for myself and for the world, the things I wrote were rank with the passions and selfishness and sin from which they sprang. An evil tree brings forth evil fruits, when it brings forth fruit at all. 

I went to Mass, of course, not merely every Sunday, but sometimes during the week as well. I was never long from the Sacraments—usually I went to confession and Communion if not every week, every fortnight. I did a fair amount of reading that might be called “spiritual,” although I did not read spiritually. I devoured books making notes here and there and remembering whatever I thought would be useful in an argument—that is, for my own aggrandizement, in order that I myself might take these things and shine by their light, as if their truth belonged to me. And I occasionally made a visit to a church in the afternoons, to pray or do the Stations of the Cross. 

All this would have been enough for an ordinary Catholic, with a lifetime of faithful practice of his religion behind him: but for me it could not possibly be enough. A man who has just come out of the hospital, having nearly died there, and having been cut to pieces on an operating table, cannot immediately begin to lead the life of an ordinary working man. And after the spiritual mangle I have gone through, it will never be possible for me to do without the sacraments daily, and without much prayer and penance and meditation and mortification. 

It took me time to find it out: but I write down what I have found out at last, so that anyone who is now in the position that I was in then may read it and know what to do to save himself from great peril and unhappiness. And to such a one I would say: Whoever you are, the land to which God has brought you is not like the land of Egypt from which you came out. You can no longer live here as you lived there. Your old life and your former ways are crucified now, and you must not seek to live any more for your own gratification, but give up your own judgement into the hands of a wise director, and sacrifice your pleasures and comforts for the love of God and give the money you no longer spend on those things, to the poor. 

What Merton is talking about here is this:  once a door opens, it's next to impossible to close it again.  Merton has walked through the doors of the Catholic Church, and now either he has to change his ways, or live for the rest of his life with the knowledge that he has rejected the love of God.  Not a comfortable position to find oneself.

This afternoon, I got a phone call.  One of those phone calls that open a door that you can't close.  It was my older sister, telling me that my sister, Rose, who has Down syndrome, suffered a grand mal seizure at home and was rushed by ambulance to the hospital.  When she got to the hospital, she had another grand mal seizure.

Now, some of you may remember that this particular door opened a few weeks ago.  The same thing happened.  Rose had a seizure and ended up in an ambulance, then the hospital.  Since we are in the middle of a pandemic, I wasn't able to see Rose or visit her in the hospital.  So, all the information I got was filtered through my sister, who is Rose's durable power of attorney.  From what I know, Rose came home last time on new medications with the need to follow up with her primary care provider.  I'm not sure if Rose ever saw her PCP.  

Back to today . . . Rose was released from the hospital this afternoon after about two hours.  When she got home, as she was being helped out of the car, she suffered another grand mal seizure.  An ambulance was called again.  She was transported to a different hospital, and now, about three hours later, I'm still waiting for any news on her condition.

Some doors you open yourself and walk through.  I did that this past October with my new job at the library.  Other doors open by themselves, and you're forced through them.  Addiction doors.  Marital strife doors.  Cancer doors.  Dead car battery doors.  Pandemic doors.  Mental illness doors.  Sick sister doors.  

I am hoping for good news some time tonight.  A miracle even.  My sister's little body can't take much more.  And, I fear that a door may be opening for her.  I'm not ready for her to walk through that door.  So, I'm praying for that door to close again.  It's a selfish prayer, I know.  I don't care.

Saint Marty is tired of unfamiliar rooms.

Friday, January 15, 2021

January 15: The Prudence of the Flesh, Grant Writing, Obsessions and Passions

Merton realizes that there's more to being a Christian than he thought . . .

One of the big defects of my spiritual life in that first year was a lack of devotion to the Mother of God. I believed in the truths which the Church teaches about Our Lady, and I said the “Hail Mary” when I prayed, but that is not enough. People do not realize the tremendous power of the Blessed Virgin. They do not know who she is: that it is through her hands all graces come because God has willed that she thus participate in His work for the salvation of men. 

To me, in those days, although I believed in her, Our Lady occupied in my life little more than the place of a beautiful myth—for in practice I gave her no more than the kind of attention one gives to a symbol or a thing of poetry. She was the Virgin who stood in the doors of the medieval cathedrals. She was the one I had seen in all the statues in the Musée de Cluny, and whose pictures, for that matter, had decorated the walls of my study at Oakham. 

But that is not the place that belongs to Mary in the lives of men. She is the Mother of Christ still, His Mother in our souls. She is the Mother of the supernatural life in us. Sanctity comes to us through her intercession. God has willed that there be no other way. 

But I did not have that sense of dependence or of her power. I did not know what need I had of trust in her. I had to find out by experience. 

What could I do without love of the Mother of God, without a clear and lofty spiritual objective, without spiritual direction, without daily Communion, without a life of prayer? But the one thing I needed most of all was a sense of the supernatural life, and systematic mortification of my passions and of my crazy nature. 

I made the terrible mistake of entering upon the Christian life as if it were merely the natural life invested with a kind of supernatural mode by grace. I thought that all I had to do was to continue living as I had lived before, thinking and acting as I did before, with the one exception of avoiding mortal sin.

It never occurred to me that if I continued to live as I had lived before, I would be simply incapable of avoiding mortal sin. For before my Baptism I had lived for myself alone. I had lived for the satisfaction of my own desires and ambitions, for pleasure and comfort and reputation and success. Baptism had brought with it the obligation to reduce all my natural appetites to subordination to God’s will: “For the wisdom of the flesh is an enemy to God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither can it be. And they who are in the flesh, cannot please God ... and if you live according to the flesh, you shall die: but if by the Spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live. For whosoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” Spiritu ambulate, et desideria carnis non perficietis

St. Thomas explains the words of the Epistle to the Romans very clearly and simply. The wisdom of the flesh is a judgement that the ordinary ends of our natural appetites are the goods to which the whole of man’s life are to be ordered. Therefore it inevitably inclines the will to violate God’s law. 

In so far as men are prepared to prefer their own will to God’s will, they can be said to hate God: for of course they cannot hate Him in Himself. But they hate Him in the Commandments which they violate. But God is our life: God’s will is our food, our meat, our life’s bread. To hate our life is to enter into death, and therefore the prudence of the flesh is death. 

The only thing that saved me was my ignorance. Because in actual fact, since my life after my Baptism was pretty much what it had been before Baptism, I was in the condition of those who despise God by loving the world and their own flesh rather than Him. And because that was where my heart lay, I was bound to fall into mortal sin, because almost everything that I did tended, by virtue of my habitual intention to please myself before all else, to obstruct and deaden the work of grace in my soul. 

But I did not clearly realize all this. Because of the profound and complete conversion of my intellect, I thought I was entirely converted. Because I believed in God, and in the teachings of the Church, and was prepared to sit up all night arguing about them with all comers, I imagined that I was even a zealous Christian. 

What Merton is saying here is that human beings are pretty much selfish creatures.  They care only about their own fleshy needs.  Eternity is not really on the minds of most people.  It's all about feeding hungers.  For McDonald's.  Sex.  Poetry.  Rock and roll.  Whatever.  You name it, and someone is probably obsessed with it or obsessing over it.

I apologize for my prolonged absence.  These last five days, I've been obsessed with grant writing and playing Jeopardy.

At the library, I've been working on a very large programming grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.  It has pretty much consumed my thoughts and energies for the last week-and-a-half.  And I have another two weeks left before I have to submit it.  Which may sound like quite a bit of time.  However, I have to secure presenters and workshop leaders and venues and videographers and partnering organizations.

At home, every time I've had a few minutes of my own to write, I've been playing a Jeopardy board game with my family.  My son and daughter have been a little obsessed with it.  And I get to play Alex Trebek.  I think they let me be the host simply because I can pronounce all of the names and terms and geographical locations correctly.  

And right now most of the people in the United States are obsessed with the second impeachment of Donald Trump and coronavirus restrictions and vaccines.  I try to avoid the rabbit hole of Facebook posts about these subjects.  For example, the members of the Baraga County Board here in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan issued a "manifesto" stating they would no longer enforce the health department's pandemic restrictions--throwing open the doors to dining in restaurants, no facemasks, and crowded bars.  A friend of mine--who is a nurse, no less--posted this news with the comment "Wow about time."  (The sheer short-sightedness and scientific ignorance of that statement astounds me--and I could easily obsess about it.)

Obsession can be a good thing, too.  Just found out that Amanda Gorman will the the poet at Joe Biden's Presidential Inauguration this coming Wednesday.  I can guarantee you that, over the next few days, I will be obsessing about Gorman and her work.  (I've already been obsessing about inaugural poets, anyway.  I'm hosting a virtual reading at the library of all of the past Presidential Inaugural poems, so I've been doing lots of research and reading on the subject.)

There's not much difference, I think, between obsession and passion.  Yet, to say that you're passionate about someone or something seems respectable.  To say you're obsessed about someone or something has a Charles Manson-quality.  Notice the difference in tone between these two statements:  "I'm really passionate about kitchen knives" and "I'm obsessed with kitchen knives."  The former phrase could be uttered by a contestant on Master Chef, and the latter is straight Hannibal Lecter material.

Yet, passion and obsession are two sides of the same coin.  Healthy.  Unhealthy.  Light.  Dark.  They're both about feeding a hunger.  Fleshy.  Metaphysical.  Here are a few of my healthy obsessions/passions from the last few weeks:  poet Natasha Trethewey, Charles Dickens, the film The Man Who Invented Christmas, Louisa May Alcott, Greta Gerwig's Little Women, my puppy, the films The Family Stone and Love Actually, poet Joy Harjo, Bigfoot, poets Richard Blanco and Diane Glancy, and Clementine oranges.  

Here are a few of my less healthy obsessions/passions from the last few weeks:  staying up until 2 a.m. every night watching the movies I listed above, drinking a few too many glasses of wine in the evening, late-night Amazon orders, Facebook posts about Donald Trump's unraveling presidency, COVID-19 infection and fatality numbers, and the Weather Channel app.  

So, you see what has kept me from posting these last five or so days.  These selfish distractions.  I have said it before, and I will say it again: 

Saint Marty is a very weak person--with very strong passions.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

January 10: Real Mystical Life, Self Reflection, Family Member

 Merton struggles with prayer, among other things . . .

Direction was the thing I most needed, and which I was least solicitous to avail myself of. And as far as I remember I only got around to asking Father Moore some trivial questions—what was a scapular, what was the difference between a breviary and a missal, and where could I get a missal? 

The idea of the priesthood had been put aside, for the time being. I had good enough motives for doing so: it was too soon, perhaps, to think of that. Nevertheless, when I ceased to think of myself explicitly as a possible candidate for a high and arduous and special vocation in the Church, I tended automatically to slacken my will and to relax my vigilance, and to order my acts to nothing but an ordinary life. I needed a high ideal, a difficult aim, and the priesthood provided me with one. And there were many concrete factors in this. If I were going to enter a seminary or a monastery some day, I would have to begin to acquire some of the habits of religious or seminarians—to live more quietly, to give up so many amusements and such worldliness, and to be very careful to avoid things that threatened to provoke my passions to their old riot. 

But without this ideal, I was in real and constant danger of carelessness and indifference, and the truth is, that after receiving the immense grace of Baptism, after all the struggles of persuasion and conversion, and after all the long way I had come, through so much of the no-man’s land that lies around the confines of hell, instead of becoming a strong and ardent and generous Catholic, I simply slipped into the ranks of the millions of tepid and dull and sluggish and indifferent Christians who live a life that is still half animal, and who barely put up a struggle to keep the breath of grace alive in their souls. 

I should have begun to pray, really pray. I had read books all about mysticism, and what is more, at the moment of Baptism, had I but known it, the real mystical life—the life of sanctifying grace and the infused theological virtues and the gifts of the Holy Ghost—was laid open to me in all its fulness: I had only to enter in to it and help myself, and I would soon have advanced rapidly in prayer. But I did not. I did not even know what was ordinary mental prayer, and I was quite capable of practicing that from the start: but what is even worse, it was four or five months before I even learned how to say the Rosary properly, although I had one and used occasionally to say the Paters and Aves without knowing what else was required.

Merton struggles after his Baptism in the Catholic Church.  Like most Catholics, he accepts the gifts given to him for free--the sacraments and beliefs and graces--without really putting in the hard work.  Prayer and meditation and reflection.  Examining yourself and recognizing the need to change your ways.

I live in a pretty polarized country right now.  Domestic terrorists tried to overthrow the government, incited by a failed President of the United States, aided by corrupt politicians.  Family members are fighting family members.  Fathers and mothers against children.  Friends against friends.  Were these disagreements based on civil discourse about actual facts, I would be able to stomach this debate.

However, the people who stormed Washington, D. C.,  were armed, some with pipe bombs.  They killed a police officer, beating him while he was unconscious.  Any person who supports this type of behavior--thinks it's patriotic to commit murder and vandalism--is not anyone I wish to engage with in my personal life.

I have a large family, with diverse points of view.  We don't agree on everything.  I can respect that.  What I can't respect--and most members of my family DO agree upon this point--is the beating to death of a member of law enforcement trying to defend the United States Capitol Building.  That is a horrific act of violence.  Nothing to debate about.

Any United States citizen--Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, Christian or atheist--who disagrees with me on this fact needs to do some self reflection and meditation and prayer.  Because there's something wrong there.  That person has lost his or her moral and ethical foundation.

Tonight, I cut myself off from a family member who was supporting the possibility of additional violence and uprising in Washington, D. C.  Calling it "patriotic."  I wish this family member well.  Pray for him.  However, I can't and won't allow myself to be associated with anyone who condones acts of sedition and the taking of life.  This isn't about politics.  It's about basic human decency.

I can respect people with ideas different from mine.  I can love people with opposing points of view.  Sometimes, however, there are lines that simply can't be crossed without repercussions.  This is one of those lines for me.

Tonight, I'm going to pray for my family member.  Will continue to pray for him every day.  That's what I can do right now.  Give him up to the universe in love.

And Saint Marty will keep his distance until this person does a little soul-searching.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

January 8-9: Fundamental Needs of My Soul, Unique Monster, Disease Predicated on Choice

Merton is baptized and then gets lost again . . . 

I had come, like the Jews, through the Red Sea of Baptism. I was entering into a desert—a terribly easy and convenient desert, with all the trials tempered to my weakness—where I would have a chance to give God great glory by simply trusting and obeying Him, and walking in the way that was not according to my own nature and my own judgement. And it would lead me to a land I could not imagine or understand. It would be a land that was not like the land of Egypt from which I had come out: the land of human nature blinded and fettered by perversity and sin. It would be a land in which the work of man’s hands and man’s ingenuity counted for little or nothing: but where God would direct all things, and where I would be expected to act so much and so closely under His guidance that it would be as if He thought with my mind, as if He willed with my will. 

It was to this that I was called. It was for this that I had been created. It was for this Christ had died on the Cross, and for this that I was now baptized, and had within me the living Christ, melting me into Himself in the fires of His love. 

This was the call that came to me with my Baptism, bringing with it a most appalling responsibility if I failed to answer it. Yet, in a certain sense, it was almost impossible for me to hear and answer it. Perhaps it demanded a kind of miracle of grace for me to answer it at once, spontaneously and with complete fidelity—and, oh, what a thing it would have been if I had done so! 

For it was certainly true that the door into immense realms was opened to me on that day. And that was something I could not help realizing however obscurely and vaguely. The realization, indeed, was so remote and negative that it only came to me by way of contrast with the triviality and bathos of normal human experience—the talk of my friends, the aspect of the city, and the fact that every step down Broadway took me further and further into the abyss of anti-climax. 

Father Moore had caught us just as we were going out the door and rushed us into the rectory for breakfast, and that was a good thing. It had something of the character of my good Mother, the Church, rejoicing at having found her lost groat. We all sat around the table and there was nothing incongruous about the happiness I then felt at all this gaiety, because charity cannot be incongruous with itself: and certainly everybody was glad at what had been done, first of all myself and Father Moore, and then, in different degrees, Lax, Gerdy, Seymour, and Rice. 

But after that we went out, and discovered that we had nowhere to go: this irruption of the supernatural had upset the whole tenor of a normal, natural day. 

It was after eleven o’clock, and nearly time for lunch, and we had just had breakfast. How could we have lunch? And if, at twelve o’clock, we did not have lunch, what was there for us to do? 

And then once and for all, the voice that was within me spoke again, and I looked once again into the door which I could not understand, into the country that was meaningless because it was too full of meanings that I could never grasp. “The land which thou goest to possess is not like the land of Egypt from whence thou earnest out ... For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways my ways, saith the Lord ... Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near ... Why do you spend money for that which is not bread and your labor for that which doth not satisfy you?” 

I heard all this, and yet somehow I seemed not to be able to grasp or understand it. Perhaps, in a way, there was a kind of moral impossibility of my doing what I should have done, because I simply did not yet know what it was to pray, to make sacrifices, to give up the world, to lead what is called the supernatural life. What were the things I should have done and that it could not even occur to me to do?

I should have begun at once, in the first place, to go to Communion every day. That did occur to me, but at first I thought that was not generally done. Besides I believed you had to go to confession every time you wanted to go to Communion. Of course, the simple way out of that would have been to keep going to Father Moore and asking him questions. 

That was the second thing I should have done: I should have sought constant and complete spiritual direction. Six weeks of instructions, after all, were not much, and I certainly had nothing but the barest rudiments of knowledge about the actual practice of Catholic life, and if I had not made the absolutely tragic assumption that now my period of training was finished and done with, I would not have made such a mess of that first year after my Baptism. Probably the very worst thing I could have done was to hesitate about asking questions that occurred to me, and to have been too ashamed of my weakness to approach Father Moore about the real, fundamental needs of my soul. 

Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is to ask for help.  This comes from the mistaken idea that needing assistance indicates failure or weakness in some way.  Because you aren't able to solve your own problems or pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.  I think that's a particularly American attitude, as citizens of the United States grow up believing in the power of the individual.  Each person is the captain of his or her own destiny.

Of course, that's a load of shit.  There is no weakness in need.  Homelessness is not a choice.  Someone doesn't wake up one morning and think, "I would rather live on the street, not knowing where my next meal is coming from."  Mental illness is not a choice.  No one wants to battle his or her own mind every minute of every day.

Addiction is a unique monster, however.  Nobody wants to become an alcoholic or meth head or sex addict.  I know I don't want to wake up every morning and immediately think "I need a drink" or "How much codeine do I have left?" or "Do I have hepatitis?"  Addiction can lead to homelessness.  And it is a cousin to mental illness.  Yet, there is choice involved.

Pouring yourself a glass of gin is a choice.  Placing pills on your tongue or shoving a needle in your vein is a choice.  Meeting a stranger from the Internet for a sexual encounter is a choice.  There is personal culpability and responsibility in addiction.  An addict in my life was recently confronted by a close family member.  The addict's response was this:  "Just love me.  I don't ask you to understand.  Just love me.  Please."

Love is not the solution to addiction.  I can't love an addiction out of a person.  I can love a person who has an addiction, but, ultimately, that love leads to disappointment and heartache and loneliness.  And an addict, truly, doesn't care about the pain s/he causes a spouse or child or sibling or parent.  Because all that matters to the addict is the next bottle of whiskey or the next fuck in the back seat of a car.  Brief pleasures that wear off quickly and leave the addict empty and hungry again.

Eventually, over months or years, addicts drive away every person who loves them and cares about them.  Children grow up.  Spouses give up.  Siblings get fed up.  And the addict ends up sick or homeless or jobless or utterly alone.  Probably all of those things.

I know I've written about this topic before.  Many times.  Addiction is something that is all-consuming--for the addict as well as the addict's loved ones.  It's a disease predicated on choice.  The only way to break the cycle of addiction is by choosing to do so.

I know the addict in my life will eventually read these words.  They won't make a difference.  Because she has convinced herself that she IS the addiction and the addiction IS her.  She has told me, on more than one occasion, "This is who I am."

Here is what she doesn't realize:  nobody loves an addiction.  That's like loving a hangover or overdose or gonorrhea.  It's impossible.  So what does that leave?

Long, sleepless nights.  Confused, angry children.  Embarrassed, exhausted spouses.  Worried, indifferent siblings.  

And the addict.  Approaching unemployment and homelessness.  Becoming more and more isolated.

Miracles happen.  I know this because I've seen them.  Benefitted from them.  The miracle my addict needs, however, I fear, is to be completely and utterly broken.  In spirit and health and heart.  Then, and only then, will she understand how much she is harming herself and her loved ones.  And then, and only then, may she make a choice to get better.

So, that's the miracle Saint Marty is praying for tonight.  A tough miracle, watered with tears and fertilized with pain.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

January 7: Poetry Workshop, Richard Blanco, "One Dog"

I led a poetry workshop tonight.  All of the prompts were based on poems written for Presidential Inaugurations.  Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, Miller Williams, Elizabeth Alexander, and Richard Blanco.  All of the poems full of light and some brand of hope.

So, on a day where those things seemed pretty scarce in my life, I offer you my attempt at something . . . hopeful.

One Dog

by:  Martin Achatz

after Richard Blanco's "One Today"

Yes, this is one of those dog poems
full of leather tongue, wet noses pressed
into crotches.  Because dogs are all about
hope.  For backyard hunts of gray
squirrels or screeching jays.
For a piece of hotdog bun to flake off,
fall to hardwood floor.  A fly
in the water dish, flash of mouse
in corner dark.  A dog survives
on hope, from first yawn and stretch
to pillow sigh.  Hope is what wags
the leash, digs in a box for a bone-
shaped biscuit.  At night, hope
slams the car door, enters the house,
calls out, sings out, Good girl! or Good boy!
Which is an invocation, a conjuring.
Yes, hope is a four-legged thing
that meets you after a long day
of reports and budgets, shivers its tail,
helicopters on the floor, humps
your shins, circles and circles and circles
until, exhausted, it flops on its back,
waits for your hand to reach down,
scratch its belly until it pisses
all over you in joy.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

January 6: Serve Strange Gods and Adore Them, Golden Rule, Playground Bully

 Merton on the beautiful and terrible words of God . . .

How beautiful and how terrible are the words with which God speaks to the soul of those He has called to Himself, and to the Promised Land which is participation in His own life—that lovely and fertile country which is the life of grace and glory, the interior life, the mystical life. They are words lovely to those who hear and obey them: but what are they to those who hear them without understanding or response? 

For the Land which thou goest to possess is not like the land of Egypt from whence thou earnest out where, when the seed is sown, waters are brought in to water it after the manner of gardens. But it is a land of hills and plains, expecting rain from heaven. 

And the Lord thy God doth always visit it, and His eyes are on it from the beginning of the year unto the end thereof. 

If then you obey my commandments, which I command you this day, that you love the Lord your God and serve Him with all your heart, and with all your soul: 

He will give to your land the early rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your corn, and your wine, and your oil, and your hay out of the fields to feed your cattle, and that you may eat and be filled. 

Beware lest perhaps your heart be deceived and you depart from the Lord and serve strange Gods and adore them: and the Lord being angry shut up heaven and the rain come not down, nor the earth yield her fruit, and you perish quickly from the excellent land which the Lord will give you... 

So, here's the thing:  if you follow God's commandments, everything is going to be great for you.  If, on the other hand, you ignore those commandments--"depart from the Lord and serve strange Gods and adore them"--then you're pretty much fucked.  Plain  and simple.  And this isn't just about Christianity.  Almost every world religion has the same basic tenet at its foundation.  Some people call it "The Golden Rule":  "Do unto as you would have them do unto you."  Don't be an asshole.  Be nice and kind and respectful.  To everyone. 

That's pretty much it.  It covers all the biggies:  murder, adultery, theft, gossip, insurrection, Lifetime movies, and Justin Bieber.  Now, considering the events of today in the United States, I think this little reminder is necessary.  For the last four years, people seem to have forgotten this one simple rule that we all learned in kindergarten.  I know that, if I was mean to anyone in grade school, I ended up missing recess, sitting in the principal's office, washing blackboards after school.  If I was really bad, my parents were called.

The terrorists who took over the Capitol Building today are not the problem. They are the result.  We live in a society that has institutionalized a variety of hatreds--racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, antisemitism, Islamophobia.  The Donald Trump presidency didn't create these things.  It simply allowed them to crawl out from the shadows and march down the street, waving Confederate flags.

So where do we go from here?  Well, people need to get sent to the principal's office.  They need to have their recess privileges revoked.  They need to spend a few hard years sponging down chalkboards and clapping erasers.  Parents need to be called.  And, if those parents are mean, too, then their kids need to be expelled from the school.

These are the consequences of breaking the Golden Rule.  If you can't play nice, stay off the playground.  Donald Trump is a playground bully with nuclear warheads and an armed militia.  His toys need to be taken away, and he needs to be put on permanent timeout.  Any good parent knows this.  

This day has been exhausting.  Disappointing.  Traumatizing.

Yet, there were moments of great hope and heroism, as well.  While senators and representative fled the building, congressional aides grabbed the ballot boxes containing the electoral votes and marched out with them, insuring the safety of the election results.  They faced down the bullies, and they did it with calm and dignity.  They get their gold stars for the day.  Maybe Good Citizenship certificates, too.

School resumed, and the day's work was completed.  

Our country is far from perfect.  We saw both the best and ugliest parts of it today.  Things that filled me with pride, and things that filled me with shame.  I have great hope that newer, brighter days are ahead.

But let's be clear about this:  just because your skin is white and you commit acts of terrorism, that doesn't make you a protestor.  You are still a terrorist.  And your playground time should be taken away.  Forever.

Saint Marty gives thanks today for the miracle of nice people who know what real courage is.  

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

January 5: Into the Confessional, Coming Out of Quarantine, Introvert and Extrovert

Thomas Merton makes his First Confession and Communion . . .

After that, I went into the confessional, where one of the other assistants was waiting for me. I knelt in the shadows. Through the dark, close-meshed wire of the grille between us, I saw Father McGough, his head bowed, and resting on his hand, inclining his ear towards me. “Poor man,” I thought. He seemed very young and he had always looked so innocent to me that I wondered how he was going to identify and understand the things I was about to tell him. 

But one by one, that is, species by species, as best I could, I tore out all those sins by their roots, like teeth. Some of them were hard, but I did it quickly, doing the best I could to approximate the number of times all these things had happened—there was no counting them, only guessing. 

I did not have any time to feel how relieved I was when I came stumbling out, as I had to go down to the front of the church where Father Moore would see me and come out to begin his—and my—Mass. But ever since that day, I have loved confessionals. 

Now he was at the altar, in his white vestments, opening the book. I was kneeling right at the altar rail. The bright sanctuary was all mine. I could hear the murmur of the priest’s voice, and the responses of the server, and it did not matter that I had no one to look at, so that I could tell when to stand up and kneel down again, for I was still not very sure of these ordinary ceremonies. But when the little bells were rung I knew what was happening. And I saw the raised Host—the silence and simplicity with which Christ once again triumphed, raised up, drawing all things to Himself —drawing me to Himself. 

Presently the priest’s voice was louder, saying the Pater Noster. Then, soon, the server was running through the Confiteor in a rapid murmur. That was for me. Father Moore turned around and made a big cross in absolution, and held up the little Host. 

“Behold the Lamb of God: behold Him Who taketh away the sins of the world.” 

And my First Communion began to come towards me, down the steps. I was the only one at the altar rail. Heaven was entirely mine—that Heaven in which sharing makes no division or diminution. But this solitariness was a kind of reminder of the singleness with which this Christ, hidden in the small Host, was giving Himself for me, and to me, and, with Himself, the entire Godhead and Trinity—a great new increase of the power and grasp of their indwelling that had begun only a few minutes before at the font. 

I left the altar rail and went back to the pew where the others were kneeling like four shadows, four unrealities, and I hid my face in my hands. 

In the Temple of God that I had just become, the One Eternal and Pure Sacrifice was offered up to the God dwelling in me: the sacrifice of God to God, and me sacrificed together with God, incorporated in His Incarnation. Christ born in me, a new Bethlehem, and sacrificed in me, His new Calvary, and risen in me: offering me to the Father, in Himself, asking the Father, my Father and His, to receive me into His infinite and special love—not the love He has for all things that exist—for mere existence is a token of God’s love, but the love of those creatures who are drawn to Him in and with the power of His own love for Himself. 

For now I had entered into the everlasting movement of that gravitation which is the very life and spirit of God: God’s own gravitation towards the depths of His own infinite nature, His goodness without end. And God, that center Who is everywhere, and whose circumference is nowhere, finding me, through incorporation with Christ, incorporated into this immense and tremendous gravitational movement which is love, which is the Holy Spirit, loved me. 

And He called out to me from His own immense depths.

Merton feels unburdened after confessing his sins, tearing them out of his mouth like teeth, as he says.  I, myself, have not gone to Confession in a very long time.  Out of all the sacraments in the Catholic Church, Confession is the one that makes me feel the most uncomfortable.  I suppose it has something to do with voicing all of your deepest failings to another person.  That's never easy, whether you're speaking with a priest or psychologist or best friend.  In my experience, the process is very much like root canal.  Painful while it is happening, but, ultimately, cleansing.  A huge relief.

So, it's late.  I just hosted a program for the library a little while ago.  I'm tired,  Really tired.  Tomorrow, I return to a more normal existence of work and home, instead of working at home.  And I have a confession to make:  I'm a little anxious about coming out of quarantine.

There has been something very comforting about being at home this past month while the COVID numbers skyrocketed.  I didn't have to attend any gatherings of church services, walk through stores filled with Christmas shoppers.  No, the nurse from the Health Department instructed me to quarantine.  And that is exactly what I did.

Now, however, I find myself a little panicky about reentering the world fulltime.  I'm sure, after an hour or so, this feeling will abate.  But, today, as I sat with my puppy on my couch, working, I realized how much I am going to miss having her by my side all day.  The times when she jumps into my lap and forces me to take a break, falling asleep in my arms.  Being there when my son wakes up.  Forcing him to do his homework.  I enjoyed this time of forced isolation.  It fed my inner introvert, and my inner control freak.

Yet, I also enjoy people a great deal.  That's why I'm a teacher.  Why I arrange poetry readings and theatrical performances and concerts and lectures for a library.  It's also why I'm a poet.  There's this mistaken impression that all poets want to sit in attic studies, scribbling away in journals, while the rest of the world goes about its business.  We can thank the Emily Dickinson mythos for that stereotype.  In reality, poets want to be read and heard.  We sound our barbaric yawps over the roofs of the world.  Audience is an important part of the poetic equation.

So, here I sit at midnight, anticipating AND dreading tomorrow.  Introvert and extrovert.  Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman.  This is my confession.  

Now, Saint Marty will say his five "Our Fathers" and four "Hail Marys" and head off to bed.

Monday, January 4, 2021

January 4: The First Devil, Demons, 40 Days in the Desert

 Merton is exorcised . . . 

The essential thing was to begin the climb. Baptism was that beginning, and a most generous one, on the part of God. For, although I was baptized conditionally, I hope that His mercy swallowed up all the guilt and temporal punishment of my twenty-three black years of sin in the waters of the font, and allowed me a new start. But my human nature, my weakness, and the cast of my evil habits still remained to be fought and overcome. 

Towards the end of the first week in November, Father Moore told me I would be baptized on the sixteenth. I walked out of the rectory that evening happier and more contented than I had ever been in my life. I looked at a calendar to see what saint had that day for a feast, and it was marked for St. Gertrude. 

It was only in the last days before being liberated from my slavery to death, that I had the grace to feel something of my own weakness and helplessness. It was not a very vivid light that was given to me on the subject: but I was really aware, at last, of what a poor and miserable thing I was. On the night of the fifteenth of November, the eve of my Baptism and First Communion, I lay in my bed awake and timorous for fear that something might go wrong the next day. And to humiliate me still further, as I lay there, fear came over me that I might not be able to keep the eucharistic fast. It only meant going from midnight to ten o’clock without drinking any water or taking any food, yet all of a sudden this little act of self-denial which amounts to no more, in reality, than a sort of an abstract token, a gesture of good-will, grew in my imagination until it seemed to be utterly beyond my strength—as if I were about to go without food and drink for ten days, instead of ten hours. I had enough sense left to realize that this was one of those curious psychological reactions with which our nature, not without help from the devil, tries to confuse us and avoid what reason and our will demand of it, and so I forgot about it all and went to sleep. 

In the morning, when I got up, having forgotten to ask Father Moore if washing your teeth was against the eucharistic fast or not, I did not wash them, and, facing a similar problem about cigarettes, I resisted the temptation to smoke. 

I went downstairs and out into the street to go to my happy execution and rebirth. 

The sky was bright and cold. The river glittered like steel. There was a clean wind in the street. It was one of those fall days full of life and triumph, made for great beginnings, and yet I was not altogether exalted: for there were still in my mind these vague, half animal apprehensions about the externals of what was to happen in the church—would my mouth be so dry that I could not swallow the Host? If that happened, what would I do? I did not know. 

Gerdy joined me as I was turning in to Broadway. I do not remember whether Ed Rice caught up with us on Broadway or not. Lax and Seymour came after we were in church. 

Ed Rice was my godfather. He was the only Catholic among us—the only Catholic among all my close friends. Lax, Seymour, and Gerdy were Jews. They were very quiet, and so was I. Rice was the only one who was not cowed or embarrassed or shy. 

The whole thing was very simple. First of all, I knelt at the altar of Our Lady where Father Moore received my abjuration of heresy and schism. Then we went to the baptistery, in a little dark corner by the main door. 

I stood at the threshold. 

Quid Peris ab ecclesia Dei?” asked Father Moore. 


Fides quid tibi praestat?” 

Vitam aeternam.” 

Then the young priest began to pray in Latin, looking earnestly and calmly at the page of the Rituale through the lenses of his glasses. And I, who was asking for eternal life, stood and watched him, catching a word of the Latin here and there. 

He turned to me: 

Abrenuntias Satanae?” 

In a triple vow I renounced Satan and his pomps and his works. “Dost thou believe in God the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth?” 


“Dost thou believe in Jesus Christ His only Son, Who was born, and suffered?” 


“Dost thou believe in the Holy Spirit, in the Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of saints, the remission of sins, the resurrection of the body and eternal life?” 


What mountains were falling from my shoulders! What scales of dark night were peeling off my intellect, to let in the inward vision of God and His truth! But I was absorbed in the liturgy, and waiting for the next ceremony. It had been one of the things that had rather frightened me—or rather, which frightened the legion that had been living in me for twenty-three years. 

Now the priest blew into my face. He said: “Exi ab eo, spiritus immunde: Depart from him, thou impure spirit, and give place to the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete.” 

It was the exorcism. I did not see them leaving, but there must have been more than seven of them. I had never been able to count them. Would they ever come back? Would that terrible threat of Christ be fulfilled, that threat about the man whose house was clean and garnished, only to be reoccupied by the first devil and many others worse than himself? 

The priest, and Christ in him—for it was Christ that was doing these things through his visible ministry, in the Sacrament of my purification— breathed again into my face. 

“Thomas, receive the good Spirit through this breathing, and receive the Blessing of God. Peace be with thee.” 

Then he began again to pray, and sign me with Crosses, and presently came the salt which he put on my tongue—the salt of wisdom, that I might have the savor of divine things, and finally he poured the water on my head, and named me Thomas, “if thou be not already baptized.”

We're all possessed by demons, like Merton.  Real or metaphorical.  Things that take hold of us and won't let go.  Bad habits.  Smoking.  Drinking.  Porn.  Sex or drug addiction.  Obsessions.  With singers.  Poets.  Artists.  Actors.  Books.  Poems.  Movies.  I've been known to overindulge in a few of these demons.  (I may be indulging in one of them right now--a little RumChata to the point of being slightly drunk.)

Human beings are weak things.  We give ourselves over to substances and experiences that are bad for us.  Over and over.  We keep returning to them until they either destroy us or we learn to be better people.  Now, reading a book continuously won't ruin you (unless it happens to be Fifty Shades of Grey or The Art of the Deal).  Neither will re-watching a movie several times (unless it's Fifty Shades of Gray or anything with Donald Trump cameos).  Over my December quarantine, I've been possessed by two writers (Charles Dickens and Louisa May Alcott), a couple movies (Greta Gerwig's Little Women and Love Actually), and writing.  

My family has been fairly indulgent of my Christmas demons.  I've been reading an Alcott biography and new Dickens biography.  Watching Little Women and Love Actually late at night, multiple times, after everyone has gone to bed.  And finishing my Christmas essay and poem.  Now, in the first days of January, I'm still reading the biographies.  I've moved on to watching The Family Stone and Yesterday.  And, with my holiday essay and poem done, I've have turned my attention to revising a chapbook manuscript.

That's the other thing about demons.  They're easily replaced.  As Merton says, after being exorcised, a person can be "reoccupied by the first devil and many others worse than himself."  I've seen this happen, as well.  Food addiction replaced with prescription drug addiction.  Or sex addiction.  One unhealthy obsession replacing another.  People with genetic predispositions to addiction are vulnerable to becoming repossessed, if you will, unless they are pretty vigilant.

Now, I don't want to get all kinds of comments about how addiction is a disease.  I know this.  I come from a family with a pretty strong history of substance abuse.  How I have dodged that bullet, I have no idea.  I'm a poet and artist.  Subject to bouts of depression.  Constantly battling financial insecurities.  By all accounts, I should, at the very least, be a raging alcoholic, on the level of Dylan Thomas.

But I'm not.  Instead, I'm addicted to writing.  Reading about famous writers.  Watching Christmas movies.  (I also have a huge weakness for chocolate, but that's the subject of another blog post.)  I suppose those are healthy demons to be wrestling with.  (Unless you ask my family members about how many times I watch The Family Stone in a day.  They might  think that an intervention is needed.)

Like anybody else, I am weak.  I wouldn't last 40 days in the desert.  I wouldn't even last one hour, especially if the Devil came along and offered me a cold cup of water and a ham sandwich.  I give in to my obsessions all the time, often to the detriment of the people I care about most.  I invite my demons in, sit down, and have dinner with them on a nightly basis.

That doesn't make me a bad person.  It makes me human.  I don't beat my children or cheat on my wife.  I don't get drunk and miss work.  As possessed people go, I'm pretty high-functioning.  No masturbating with crucifixes in public for me.

I have also learned in the past year to accept the possessed people in my life.  Sometimes, those people hurt me deeply.  That doesn't make me love them any less.  It just fills me with disappointment and sadness.  I don't want people I care about to do things that will harm them.  Yet, I have no power over their actions or choices.  So, I can only sit back and wait for the exorcist to show up.  And watch The Family Stone one more time.

Saint Marty gives thanks for the miracle of sappy Christmas movies tonight.

Another of my obsessions . . .