Chestnut Hill Reservoir, Boston MA

27 February 2011


Though I've never studied architecture formally, I have an innate appreciation for the power of the built environment to shape, inspire, or constrict the human activity that occurs therein. A midweek visit with a good friend to the Frank Lloyd Wright house and studio in Oak Park, Illinois renewed an attentiveness to the complicated relationships between people and cities that first captivated me in a course on urban geography that I took as a first-year Dartmouth student. The urban landscapes of Chicago and Milwaukee, in their constituent buildings and their overall layout, invited both intellectual and instinctual reflection during the course of my time in these cities this past week. In lieu of sharing any written meditations along these lines, I offer some of my photographs, inviting your own reflection about what these buildings and spaces suggest to you.

Michigan Avenue Bridge and Downtown Chicago

Home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Oak Park IL

Rotunda of the Chicago Cultural Center

Merchandise Mart, Chicago IL

Pere Marquette Statue and St. Joan of Arc Chapel
Marquette University, Milwaukee WI

Main Lobby, Milwaukee Museum of Art

Three Minutes

"Cloudgate" Sculpture and Chicago Skyline

I'm back in Worcester after a wonderful week in Chicago, visiting fellow Jesuits, Dartmouth classmates, and friends from my days as a scholastic in St. Louis. The flight back today was delayed a little leaving Midway, but the crew made up almost all the time along the way, landing at Logan just a few minutes behind schedule. Thanks to the timely arrival of a Silver Line bus after a seemingly interminable wait at the baggage carousel, I was able to reach South Station, thread my way through a maze of stairs, turnstiles, and escalators, weave across a busy concourse, and onto the farthest car of a waiting commuter train to Worcester. Three minutes later, right on time, it left the platform.
For the previous three hours, I hadn't been terribly worried about missing that train, yet I knew that it would be the last one to Worcester until much later in the afternoon. As much as I love traveling, and savored the grace of feeling like a pilgrim in Chicago this week as I navigated elevated trains, buses, and the long blocks of that sprawling city, I tend to value punctuality, and to dislike perturbations in schedules and plans. Yet while sitting on that idling train, grateful that the progress of my journey matched its schedule, three minutes suddenly seemed like a decent length of time.
Amid my busy life as a teacher, which resumes nice and early tomorrow morning, I'm constantly looking for ways to dedicate and preserve my free time for life-giving and restorative pursuits: prayer and meditation, reading, writing letters, phone calls, and the like. I often envision such pursuits requiring longer periods of time: 20 minutes, half an hour, or more. But maybe I can do more, especially in the midst of the flurried breadth of activities and interactions at school, with three minutes. How about you?

22 February 2011


The Loop, Chicago IL


Coded lines shuttle the indecipherable mixture
of countless vital courses briefly channeled
by networks designed, crafted, forged
to serve the needs of the created.

A functional monument to wielders of earthly
powers, humming, churning, bearing
flesh-flecked sparks of heavenly
artistry carried by subtler forces.

Reared on a frame of steel, threading
a grid of industry, commerce, residence,
labor and leisure, each routed journey
a waypoint along a multitude of paths.

21 February 2011

Company Along the Way

This past Saturday, I traveled to Martha's Vineyard to compete in a 20-mile race. Why rise before the sun for a 90-minute drive, then a 45-minute ferry trip, followed by just over two hours of running around an island off the southeast coast of Massachusetts in the middle of winter? Practically, because it's a great way to test my fitness and the fruits of the past six weeks of my training, with the Boston Marathon still eight weeks away. Personally, because it's much more fun to run that distance with 400 other people than it is to do so alone. Spiritually, because there's some great adventure involved in the entire expedition, and the opportunity to meet some wonderful, friendly people whose passion and enthusiasm about life is rarely limited to running.

This year, the one nemesis in the event was the wind– a steady and invisible hand pushing across the whole of New England at 30 miles an hour. As a tailwind, it was pretty sweet. As a headwind, it was brutal. And although dueling with the same air whose maritime pungency I savored robbed me of some good finishing speed late in the race, I was happiest when sharing the swiftness and the toil of a blustery and blistering pace with a number of other runners, alternately blocking the wind for each other, one mile at a time. As my legs tired, I saw Martha's less as a race and more as a communal celebration of running, the caprices of a New England winter, and the desire to train bodies, strengthen minds, and gladden souls. When I reached the finish, weary and fatigued, two seconds faster than last year, I was grateful as much for the company I kept along the course as the time in which I navigated it. And once again, the signature item at the postrace spread– a retired Coast Guard officer's homemade clam chowder– was the best bowl of the stuff I've had all winter!

A Jesuit friend made the trip with me; he toured the island by bus while I ran. The time we shared on the boat and in the car gave us the opportunity to speak with animation and at great length about everything from family and friends to vocation stories to the joys and challenges we've encountered in Jesuit life. I was once again struck by a blessing that I so often encounter among my brothers– we come from an incredible variety of backgrounds, contribute a diverse range of gifts and talents, and shoulder a degree and assemblage of burdens and suffering that is unique to each of us, yet often reveals a strong resonance between us. I consider myself extremely blessed to have been given such a splendid community of brothers as an invaluable support for, and integral component of, the life to which I have dedicated myself in response to a call that I first started to hear nearly a decade ago.
My next adventure: spending February break in Chicago. Why lose my familiarity with winter?

15 February 2011

A Reflection on Regency

Recently I was asked to write a reflective piece on my experience of regency, the stage of formation as a Jesuit that emphasizes full time work in a particular assignment, typically in the educational field. Having completed one and a half of my three years of regency, it's an opportune time to take stock of what I've learned– about teaching, about Jesuit life, about my own self– and to consider my hopes, dreams, and goals for my remaining time in this assignment.
The essay in question may be viewed here.

12 February 2011

Subtle Artistry

As part of the Civil War unit that I'm currently covering with my 8th grade social studies class, I'll be highlighting the Battle of Gettysburg and its significance in the war. My brilliantly creative co-teacher suggested that I present a dramatic reading of the Gettysburg Address, in character, as a way to impress upon our students the masterful oratory therein, and the staying power of those words uttered nearly 150 years ago. For the past several days I've been working on memorizing the speech, and I find myself impressed not only by how much Lincoln was able to express in three short paragraphs, but also by the subtle artistry whereby he weaves together all sorts of linguistic structures, rhythmic cadence, and humble boldness.
While mentally rehearsing the speech during an 18-mile training run this morning, I happened upon a brilliant scene: the bare hedges and trees ringing the field along the road were delicately traced in frost that shone starkly against a gray overcast sky. Icy tendrils of white conspiring to outline every edge of dormant life froze my gaze while melting away the lingering bitterness of a stressful week in the classroom. Warm wonder at the hidden majesty just a few hills away from New England's second-largest city reminded me of the importance of seeking the gently shrouded craftsmanship awaiting the discerning perception of a keen spirit.
"The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here...", said Lincoln, ostensibly unaware of the future legacy of his two-minute address to the crowd gathered at Gettysburg that November day in 1863. What subtle artistry goes unnoticed amid quickened lives? What expressions of ours, though mere seconds in duration or a few sentences in length, can deeply move the lives of others? What surprises await us just beyond a bend in a day's journey, or wait to be conveyed through our very selves?

The Gettysburg Address
Gettysburg PA, 19 November 1863
President Abraham Lincoln

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

08 February 2011

Ephemeral Beauty

For some precious, fleeting moments, a wordless peace kindled within my heart.

06 February 2011

Light of the World

The homily I heard this morning, preached by a Colombian deacon who will be ordained a priest this spring in Worcester, repeatedly stressed the phrase "¿Como podemos ser luz por los demas?"– "How are we able to be light for others?" On one of the first brilliantly sunny days in a little while in our winter-weary city, these words carried some extra resonance. The Gospel today narrates Jesus' use of a lantern as a metaphor for our lives: "You are the light of the world... no one lights a lamp and covers it with a basket; instead, it is put on a lampstand, where it gives light to all who are in the house." (Matthew 5:14-15)
As a teacher, I reflect often on how well I may be illuminating my students' lives, whether with factual information about United States history, discussions on different types of religious communities, or just the example of my dedication to ministry, community living, and a life of prayerfulness and service. I know that when I doubt myself, my light grows dimmer, and in the face of all the difficulties and challenges my students bear each day, I am not always confident that my seemingly feeble light is strong enough to overcome the darkness in the lives. It is as if I am not as aware of my own light unless I can see it mirrored back– in the sudden insight of a student, the support and companionship of a good friend, or the refreshing feel of a rich conversation.
Some overnight rain froze into a thin glaze over the snowpack; this morning, the campus and city sparkled in the crisp, piercing rays of the winter sun. Strolling around campus after Mass, I couldn't help but notice that, even in stillness, the snow was more than capable of casting its brilliance far deeper than my mere sense of vision. Patches sullied by splashes of muddy slush are more numerous, yet the overall effect is still one of great beauty. I like to believe and hope that the same is true of each of us... even with less than ideal reflectivity, even with spaces of doubt or suffering or pain in our minds and hearts, we are still very much the light of the world, and well worth placing on lampstands rather than hiding where we are harder to see.

Some additional thoughts from Mary Oliver:

"The Buddha's Last Instruction"

"Make of yourself a light,"
said the Buddha,
before he died.
I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal– a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
even green.
An old man, he lay down
between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything,
knowing it was his final hour.
The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered
and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere
by its ocean of yellow waves.
No doubt he thought of everything
that had happened in his difficult life.
And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire–
clearly I'm not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.
Slowly, beneath the branches,
he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.

– From "New and Selected Poems, Volume One" by Mary Oliver

Jesuit Community, College of the Holy Cross

College of the Holy Cross, Worcester MA

Fenwick Hall, College of the Holy Cross, Worcester MA

02 February 2011

Drifting Thoughts

The snow day count stands at seven. We haven't had a five-day week at the Nativity School of Worcester since January 3-7. They tell me that Punxsutawney Phil didn't see his shadow; I was wondering what would have happened if the famous groundhog had stayed burrowed in... no end to winter? Yet I saw a sign of consolation in the Boston Globe the other day: the equipment truck for Spring Training leaves Fenway Park on February 8.
I've found some creative pastimes for recent snow days:
  • Shoveling out a 7-foot diameter crater around our community's bird feeder; the snow had gotten so high that the squirrels could just climb up onto the dome-shaped guard and pillage the feed intended for the many juncos and cardinals that patronize our seedy little establishment. (Points if you found the pun!)
  • Driving a brother Jesuit to and from an appointment during the storm, driving in second gear and doing L-shaped fishtail turns on city streets that one eloquent reporter described as "driving on Crisco." Vegetable oil may be an alternative fuel, but it's not an alternative driving surface.
  • Helping to rearrange the furniture in our living room– an act as momentous as changing the balance of power in Congress– in order to facilitate an impromptu gathering of the brethren around the fireplace to share a little refreshment and a lot of stories.
  • Hanging out with the guys from the grounds crew who plow our little enclave in the parking lot, and talking about fleet maintenance for everything from Chevy Impalas (great snow cars!) to 18-point plow bolt mechanisms on front-end loaders.
  • Taking more pictures around campus, marveling at the mounting drifts, and wondering when the 12-foot high piles in the parking lots will finally vanish.
Tonight, I'll make a sandwich, pack a change of clothes for afternoon sports, and prepare to return to school tomorrow. I'll wind down with some journaling and prayer, grateful for the blessings of the latest round of snow, and ready for a long winter's nap.

Narnia or Worcester?

Bird feeder (and anti-squirrel crater)
Jesuit Residence, College of the Holy Cross

"Beyond the Snow Belt"

Over the local stations, one by one,
Announcers list disasters like dark poems
That always happen in the skull of winter.
But once again the storm has passed us by:
Lovely and moderate, the snow lies down
While shouting children hurry back to play,
And scarved and smiling citizens once more
Sweep down their easy paths of pride and welcome.

And what else might we do?
Two counties north the storm has taken lives.
Two counties north, to us, is far away,–
A land of trees, a wing upon a map,
A wild place never visited,– so we
Forget with ease each far mortality.

Peacefully from our frozen yards we watch
Our children running on the mild white hills.
This is the landscape that we understand,–
And till the principle of things takes root,
How shall examples move us from our calm?
I do not say that it is not a fault.
I only say, except as we have loved,
All news arrives as from a distant land.

–From "New and Selected Poems, Volume One" by Mary Oliver