Monday, February 22, 2010

With My Body, I Thee Worship

In light of this previous post, I am thinking of another post, from my old blog, which I originally posted in September of 2006 (and which, in turn, was adapted from an entry in my 'paper journal' from May of 2003). It also seems to fit with the fact that we are newly embarked upon Lent, and six weeks of spiritual contemplation, leading up to Easter.

I've never re-posted anything before (is this a sign of having 'jumped the shark'?), but having a new blog, and a few new readers who might not have seen all of the 'old stuff' (and who might be disinclined to go poking around an old 'dormant' blog), it seems I am afforded an opportunity, once in a blue moon, as it suits my purposes, to reprise some of my best 'old stuff'. . .


A while back, a phrase came into my mind (phrases do that to me, from time to time; it's my cross to bear), and it hasn’t left me alone ever since. I think it’s from an old form of the Anglican wedding service (incredibly geeky, I know, but what can I do?). Anyway, at one point during the vows, the bridegroom says to the bride: “With my body, I thee worship.”

With my body, I thee worship.

There is a real depth there, a real richness, that goes beyond merely “I love you,” or even, “I want to have a life and a family with you,” although those things are certainly included in it. It captures very well how I feel about my wife, and how I aspire to have my life be joined to hers.

On multiple levels, sex is an act of worship – Catholics would invoke the grace of the sacrament of Matrimony. But in a simpler, earthy sense, I can simply say that I mean to worship Jen. Not, obviously, in the same sense in which I worship God – I would mean something like ‘reverence’, or ‘venerate’, or ‘honor’ or ‘esteem’, but none of those words capture the full sense of what I mean the way that ‘worship’ does. Jen is worthy of veneration, just like, say, Catholic theology would say the saints are worthy of veneration, but she is the saint whose life is bound up with mine.

GK Chesterton wrote that being constrained to one woman was a small price to pay for the privilege of having even one woman, and that sense of reverential gratitude resonates deeply with me. Getting to know Jen – really know her – is like being let in on a great mystery. As a Christian, I want to go “further up and further in” (to borrow a phrase from CS Lewis) – grow deeper in my love of God, and give myself more fully to Him. In an analogous way, I want to ‘go deeper’ in our marriage, and the life we have together. I want to know her better, be known better by her, give my life more fully to her; and that begins to get at the ‘worship’ I aim to give her.

In Holy Communion, Catholics believe that we receive Christ directly into our bodies (there is a very earthy aspect to Catholic theology that I find immensely appealing). In an analogous way, we give ourselves, and receive each other, directly into our bodies when we make love, under the covering of the sacrament of Matrimony. It’s all so rich, I can scarcely say what I really mean. With my body, I thee worship.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Matter At Hand. . .

For the last several years, Jen and I have been praying the Liturgy of the Hours together. It's a Catholic form of daily prayer (sometimes called the Holy Office), consisting of Psalms and Scripture readings, the Lord's Prayer, and some general intercessions. There are Morning and Evening prayers, and 'lesser' forms for mid-day and bedtime. We have mainly prayed the Morning Prayers together; for the most part, the Evening Prayers haven't fit into our schedule very well. Two or three years ago, we started having the kids join us for Morning Prayers. We had a few 'false starts', where we struggled to get it well and truly established as a family pattern, but it eventually 'took hold'. Every morning (or at least most of them), we gather around the breakfast table at 6:45; some of the kids will gather around Jen, and the rest with me, and we pray the psalms antiphonally. It takes about 15 minutes, and fits really well into our morning family schedule, even as we're all getting ready for our work or school days. Just recently, Jen has been wanting for us to find a way to pray the Evening Prayers, as well. It would be nice, I suppose, to incorporate them into the dinnertime pattern, but we have so many people going in so many directions around, and just after, the dinner hour, that it just doesn't work. So, Jen and I decided to start small, and the two of us have tried to pray the Evening Prayers together at bedtime. . . ------------------------- Now Jen (like many women, I've come to find) likes chocolate, in small doses, as a kind of 'comfort food'. She keeps a little stash of dark chocolate chips under her side of the bed, and is fond of grabbing a handful to munch as she does her bedtime reading and 'winding down'. It's not a huge big deal for her; it's not an every-night thing, and she doesn't even exclusively nosh on chocolate; sometimes she'll grab a handful of marshmallows, or a granola bar. But the chocolate chips are her favorite. . . (I know this seems kinda non-sequitur-ish, but bear with me. . .) ------------------------- So, as I said, we just recently decided to start praying the Evening Prayers together at bedtime. I came to bed, and Jen handed me the prayer book. We sat together, and she prayed one of the antiphonal parts, and I prayed the other, and it was rich and good. I imagine that, as long as we're not just dead-tired at the end of the day (which, sometimes, we are; and whatcha gonna do?), it'll be good, and we'll manage to make it a regular pattern, in the fullness of time. So, when we had finished with the prayers, I handed Jen the prayer book, for her to put it back away. "Oh - could you put it away for me?" she asked. Which was a little odd, since it was stashed on her side of the bed, and I would have to either crawl over her, or get out of bed and walk around. I looked a bit askance at her; she looked back at me sheepishly, and opened her hand. . . . . . which was covered, about a quarter-inch thick, with melted chocolate. "I didn't want to be munching on chocolate chips while we were praying," she explained. . . My wife is an utterly delightful woman. . . And very pious, besides. . .

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Word for Today

uxorious (uk-SOR-ee-us); adj. dotingly or inordinately fond of, or devoted to, one's wife. . .


Sheesh; they make it sound like a bad thing. . .

I was recently reading a biography of GK Chesterton, one of my 'literary heroes', and the author described Chesteron, who was extremely devoted to his beloved wife Frances, as 'uxorious'. And I wondered, at least on the basis of what I've posted here (or there) over the years, if I could justly be described as uxorious. . .

I don't really think that I dote on Jen (I'm not nearly selfless enough for that to be said of me). And gosh, if one's wife is honestly and truly admirable, is her husband's fondness for her really 'inordinate' or 'excessive'?

Just wondering. . . ;)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Mystery - And Great Joy

Jen and I got a call the other night. It was from Nick, the adoptive father of 1F's birth-daughter (I'm not sure exactly what the word is for that relationship, but 'birth-daughter' is at least descriptive, and it corresponds cleanly to 'birth-mother', so I'll go with it), telling us of the birth of our fourth grandchild, a baby girl. So now, they've got two girls and two boys; very sweet. And now they're open to all the 'How Many Kids?' questions that we've heard for years. . .

I remember when 4M was born, and we had two boys to go with the two girls we had first, and thinking that it was all very fitting - that now, each of our kids had at least one brother and one sister (and you would have to have at least two of each for that to be true). Each of our girls had a sister and two brothers, each of our boys had a brother and two sisters, each of our children had one same-sex and two opposite-sex siblings. It was all very tidy and symmetrical (because yeah, I'm all about the symmetry).


The other thing that occurs to me here is how, in barely more than four years, Nick and Meg have gone from being a childless couple eight years into their marriage, to parents of four children. And how stark that reversal must be for them. It wasn't that long ago that they were wondering if they would ever have children, and turning to adoption. And four years later, they've got four kids, three of them 'natural'. In fact, they had barely gotten AG home from the hospital, and the adoption was still several months from being final, when Meg was pregnant - their oldest boy is only ten months younger than AG. I wonder if their heads aren't spinning, just a little bit. . .

And it occurs to me that I know of several families (I can think of four or five off the top of my head) where the same story has played out - a couple, childless for many years, finally decides to adopt, and voila! - the doors to the baby factory are magically opened; sometimes, before the adopted child is even born. Jen's brother and his wife adopted a son, and then she was pregnant within a month or two (the agency which was handling their adoption actually asked them if they still wanted to go through with the adoption; which I suppose needs to be asked, but for them it was pretty galling). Another couple we know has an adopted son and a biological son who are a few months apart, who were often taken for twins.

Now, it didn't work that way for my adoptive parents - they adopted me after nine childless years of marriage, and my brother two years later, and never did have biological children. Which, in an ultimate sense, is what it is, neither here nor there. Although I'm fairly certain that infertility left some significant scars on my 'first mother's' psyche. But it is at least a fascinating phenomenon, the way that at least some couples who have been 'infertile' for years, suddenly start popping out the babies, practically the minute they adopt, almost as if the adoption itself removes some kind of psychological 'barrier' to conception. I wonder if anyone has ever studied the phenomenon, or determined possible causal factors for it. It is WAY too common, at any rate, to think that it's just random. . .


Anyway, it gives us an even greater joy and satisfaction to see how AG's adoption has worked out - that, in some mysterious way, not only did 1F give them a daughter, but the adoption 'unlocked the door' that has brought them three more children. Not only did our grand-daughter go to a couple who could love her and raise her, she went to a family. And it's a great family, and Nick and Meg are great parents. And if, by whatever mysterious means, our family helped bring that about for them, well. . . all I can do is smile. . .

Monday, February 1, 2010


My friend Suldog has recently blogged about his game-show experiences, and that poked my memory-banks for my own one-and-only, once-upon-a-time game-show fling. . .

I have long been a fan of the quiz-show, Jeopardy!, going back to the days of Art Fleming, when I was a kid in the 60s, that had the manually-operated board, where some guy in back had to pull out the dollar-value card to reveal the answer (just to get Suldog's heart beating faster, I'll note that the system was pretty much identical to the one used in the scoreboard of Fenway Park's Green Monster; I think they have the same system at Wrigley Field). The new, slick Alex Trebek version that debut-ed in the late 70s (with all the values multiplied by 10) was just more of the same, with cool high-tech TV monitors in place of the cards in slots.

Since the syndicated show came on our local station at 7PM, just after dinner, but usually before I had to be anywhere else in the evening, I easily incorporated the habit of catching the show most nights, into my regular routine. After a few years, Jen started to notice that, as I watched, I would often know more of the questions, and sooner, than the TV contestants did, and she would casually encourage me to try out for the show, whenever they would announce a contestant search on the program. But I generally just blew her off. I had plenty of other things going on in my life (raising our ever-expanding brood of progeny, just for one example; although I was also busy with searching for birth-parents, and sundry other projects, at around the same time), and didn't need another time-filler in my schedule, just yet.

It must have been 1996, though, that things in my life changed enough - mainly, I lost my job - that I crossed over to being willing to seriously consider trying out. So, when a contestant search was announced in Chicago (only a four-hour drive, and besides, my parents live in the metro area, so I wouldn't need to book a hotel), I said to myself, "What the heck," (I don't recall what, if anything, myself said in reply), sent in an inquiry, and received a confirmation back from the show, giving me a date and time to appear at a hotel in downtown Chicago. So, I arranged for the time off work (I had a new job by then, but it was a contract position, so taking the time off wasn't a problem, so long as I was willing to not be paid for the days I didn't work), set it up with my folks to stay at their place, and I was on my way.


I really didn't do a lot of 'preparation' beforehand - I figured that my head was already full of plenty of useless knowledge, and at any rate, it would be impossible to predict which categories might be included in the test. Based on my experience of years of playing Trivial Pursuit, I knew that I was generally weakest on the 'Arts and Literature' categories, so I did a little boning up on Academy Award winners, and a few things like that, but really, I didn't 'study up' much at all. I would go in with my existing treasury of useless facts, and it would either be good enough, or not.

The night before my tryout, I left work, stopped home to kiss Jen and the kids goodbye, hopped back in my car, and drove down to my parents' house in the Chicago 'burbs. The following morning, I got up early (I vaguely recall being a little short on sleep, and having a bit too much coffee trying to compensate for that, so I was in that edgy, nervous 'over-caffeinated' state as I boarded the commuter train downtown). I made my way to the hotel, and was directed to the conference room where the tryouts were being held.

Arriving at the site, the room was closed for the session prior to mine, and the atrium outside the conference room was filling up with the would-be contestants for the next session, myself included. It was really kind-of amusing - one woman was sitting off to the side, along the wall, frantically flipping through a stack of encyclopedias. Another guy was leaning against a pillar, glaring at the 'competition' (trying to intimidate us, maybe? But honestly, the effect was more hilarious than threatening). The general air was tense, and borderline hostile. I tried to strike up a couple casual conversations, since I've always felt that being in a relaxed frame of mind was generally helpful when I was taking tests (even when I was in college, I always made sure, on the night before a big test, to get a good night's sleep, much more than any extra cramming); and I figured hey, we're all in this together, and isn't it just a cool experience, whether or not any of us gets on the show? But no one in my immediate vicinity was willing to relax enough for that (or maybe, they didn't want to fraternize with 'the enemy'; I don't know), so I just bided my time quietly by myself.

Eventually I found a guy wearing a Red Wings jacket (maybe it was '97, the year of the first of the most recent set of Stanley Cups. . .), who had come down from Detroit, who was trying out for something like the sixth time, and we had a pleasant conversation. At length, the doors to the conference room opened, and we all went in and claimed a seat - there were maybe a couple hundred chairs arranged in simple rows (no desks or tables), about twice as many as there were contestant-wannabes for that session, so we were seated in roughly every-other chair.

At the front of the room were a few TV monitors. Once we were more-or-less settled in, the staff-persons came in and passed out sheets of paper, which contained 50 numbered blanks. Then one of them turned on the monitors, and suddenly, we were being addressed by Alex Trebek himself. He explained that we would be given 50 questions, and we were to write the answers in the blanks on the sheets we'd been given. We didn't even have to phrase them in the form of a question. And if we managed to answer three-quarters or more of them correctly, we would pass on to the 'next round'. But we wouldn't be told our specific scores; it was pass/fail - you either got 38 correct answers, or you didn't. Alex told us that that meant that even if we didn't pass we could tell our friends back home that we'd only missed by one.

And then the questions commenced, appearing on the monitors on the familiar (and oddly comforting) blue background, just like on the TV show. I recall that I answered something like 44 or 45 of the questions; the other five or six, I couldn't even think of a suitable bluff, so I just waited for the next question. At the end, the staff-persons picked up our answer sheets and took them off to be graded, leaving us to our own devices (although we weren't allowed to leave the room). So Red-Wing-Guy and I talked some more hockey, until the staff-persons returned. They called out the names of those who passed - ten people, out of a room of 100 or so - and I was among the 'chosen'. Woohoo!

The ten of us stayed while the others were thanked for their time and their interest, and encouraged to try again, etc, etc. Then we were taken to a corner of the room and given little 'bio cards' to fill out, including five interesting things about ourselves, for when we were interviewed at the beginning of the show (if we ever were). Having passed the initial test, we were In the Contestant Pool, and would remain there for one year.

Then we were called, in groups of three, for a series of 'mock games'. We were given a buzzer, and some basic instructions on how to use it - basically, the buzzer is set up to discourage 'ringing in early'. Off to the side, there was a row of lights, and (rather like the start of a drag race), you couldn't ring in until the last light was lit. If you did press your buzzer early, you were locked out for one second from ringing in again. Which resulted, at least at first, in some adjustment to the Rules of Ringing In. At first, everyone instinctively rang in early, which resulted in some frustration as their early buzzes weren't recognized, and lots of right answers were never given. And folks started to get a little flustered, as their attention was required to be divided between giving the right answer, and waiting for the proper moment to ring in. So the ones who knew the answer first didn't necessarily get credit. It ended up being a little like the dog with the biscuit on his nose, but he has to wait for the command before he can eat it. (If you know to look for it, you can see the effect sometimes, even on the TV show, where a contestant will vigorously shake their buzzer, or react with subtle - or not-so-subtle - frustration when their ring-ins aren't recognized)

And the whole time, the staff-persons were taking notes on our little cards. It occurred to me, about halfway through, that these mock-games had little-or-nothing to do with showing anybody how smart we were, or how many useless facts we had at our command - it was a screen test, pure and simple. We were being evaluated not on how many correct answers we could give, or whether we were quicker or sharper than the other contestants - it was purely about what we might look like if we ever got in front of a camera on the set of the show. And once I realized that, the magic was kinda over for me. It helped me relax, and I finished better than I started (as did most all of my fellow-contestants). But I realized that I had 'peeked behind the curtain', and like Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz, it was a bit less impressive than I'd hoped. I had wanted it to be something like a Pure Meritocracy, where, if you're smart enough, you get to play. But the knowledge that even a 'Nerd Show' like Jeopardy! was all 'Image Is Everything' behind the scenes, kinda ruined it for me, and after I got back home, I didn't watch it nearly so punctiliously anymore.

I waited out my year in the Contestant Pool, ever-hopeful to get a call (even realizing that I was on my own nickel for transportation and lodging, if I ever did get called), but it never came, and I went on with my life. My friends will, from time to time, encourage me to try again, and maybe, armed with the knowledge from my first tryout, I might do better the second time, but I just can't muster up the motivation, like my Red-Wing-Guy friend, to go back for seconds or thirds, much less fifths or sixths. It was a cool experience, and I'm glad I did it, but now it's 'Been There, Done That', and I'm fine with it. I get a certain satisfaction from the 'gee-whiz' reactions I get from people when they find out I was an honest-to-gosh member of the Jeopardy! contestant pool, but knowing what I know now, actually getting on the show isn't such a big deal for me anymore. . .