Why do I go?

Dear Tom,

You asked me twice why I go to Lebanon and Syria and Iraq, and in my own ineloquent way I tried to answer. In flying off to those lands today I took a book from my shelf of unread books to accompany me on this journey. Mystics was written by Fr. William Harmless, S.J., a former theology professor at Creighton, now deceased. First of all his name is a reminder to do just that: harm less. How could I not take it to a war zone?

Studying the mystics is part of my master of arts in ministry program at Creighton and I spent part of the summer and fall in the readings of Julian of Norwich, Catherine of Siena, Alice of Foligno and others including men. But I didn’t quite grasp the meaning of mysticism in the sense of Christianity until I weirdly grabbed this book at four this morning on my way out the door.

A 15th century theologian named Jean Gerson offered a definition that was very helpful to me as a strong feeler on the thinking-feeling spectrum of the Myers Briggs assessment. “Where scholastic theology focused on the mind, mystical theology sprang primarily from the heart, the affectus.” (Pg. 6 – I love that, affectus…affect us…touch our heart!) “…the way he says that mystical theology offers a knowledge of God that comes from love.”

And Fr. Harmless used this wonderful analogy of marriage to explain that, words that were so life-giving to me this morning that I texted them to Steve, a man who shows me God’s face every day:

Think about the knowledge that married people have of one another. They have not read books about one another. They have not studied each other academically. They know one another through the union of their lives, an intimacy that touches heart and mind and body…it is not what we would call an intellectual knowledge. It is certainly not theoretical. Instead it is a love-wrought knowledge. (6)

After that text I emailed Wendy Wright, my theology professor who introduced me to the mystics as part of our coursework, I was so grateful!

(I am getting to why I go, by the way, it just has to run its course through the journey I have had with this book this morning. That’s what I do best. Blather.)

So as I was contemplating love-wrought knowledge and “the embrace of unitive love,” (as Gerson put it, that whole affectus thing) Fr. Harmless began with a chapter on a modern mystic, Thomas Merton, a man who converted to Catholicism during college and eventually became a Trappist (of the Benedictine tradition) monk and priest. He was a prolific writer (and now I need to get some more books…), but Fr. Harmless quoted from one in particular, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. The title of the book alone might be a partial description of why I went the first time. But it was the quotation that said, “Julie, here are the words you needed to say to Tom. Get to Houston and write him!”

From a man who had decided the world we live in was a place to escape from, came this:

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, and they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence in a dream. Not that I question the reality of my vocation, or of my monastic life; but the conception of “separation from the world” that we have in the monastery too easily presents itself as a complete illusion: the illusion that by making vows we become a different species of being…And I suppose my happiness could have taken form in the words: “Thank God, thank God that I am like other men, that I am only a man among others.” … It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes; yet, with all that, God Himself gloried in becoming a member of the human race. (30-31)

He went on and it just got better:

A member of the human race! To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstakes. I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate…There are no strangers!

Here it comes, this is what I tried in my own feeble, stumbling words to say to you about why I go:

Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts [affectus!] where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed… (31)

The Aziz family, refugees from Iraq living in Aleppo, Syria, August, 2010.

It was on that first trip back in 2010, as I told you. We were in Aleppo, invited into the home and to the dinner table of the Aziz family, displaced to Syria from Iraq by our war. We could see the depth of pain in their manner, in their eyes, in their reduced circumstances. Where there should have been hatred and shunning directed at their American visitors, there was an invitation to the table, the table of grace. The Lord’s table.

And that is why I go. My eyes have been opened to see the other, to see me, to see us all as we really are: Beloved children of God.

Affectus. Let it affect us. It has affected me.

Thanks be to God.

Soli deo gloria.

Hello! My name is…

Steve and I have been married for almost twelve and a half years. We will make that mark on November 18. But we have been together for twelve months longer than that, since May 18, 2001. I will remember those dates until my mind is completely gone. If I never remember anything else, I will remember those. Ah, love.

In all that time, all those years and months and days, we have traded almost daily morning emails. His always go something like this:

Hi Julie!

How’s my little Apple-Oat Cookie this morning?  Did you sleep well?  I slept so-so.  Sometimes when I go to bed later than my normal time, I have a hard time sleeping.  It’s like my sleep rhythm is thrown out of whack, and sound sleep does not come as easily.

Anyway, here I am, back in the office – again!  It should be the same ol’-same ol’. Well, punkin, I hope you have a great day!

I love you!

:  –  **********************************Steve

Every day. Just like the sun comes up every day. I receive this beautiful greeting from my love and it is the gift I need each morning, just like seeing the sun. It makes the day start off with the warmth of a hug…only it comes electronically.

Notice the line after the “Hi Julie!”? This was from yesterday. I was his “little apple oat cookie.” Every day for thirteen and a half years Steve has called me his little…dessert. Sometimes sweet. Sometimes savory. Sometimes with chocolate. Sometimes with fruit. Sometimes with nuts. Always dessert.

I asked him once a very long time ago why he did this. “Because that is who you are to me. Something so good that I just want to eat you up.” I would never in my most romantic thoughts have dreamed up someone like Steve. He just came into my life and made it so much better and I have never looked back. He is the dessert that came to me that I never asked for. “What? Wow! This is for me?” No trick there, only treat.

And then at the end it’s “punkin’.” He’s got so many sweet names that he calls me (and some I won’t share because they are too dear) that when I look in the mirror and just see plain old Julie, it knocks my socks off. He sees something different…and I love him for it.

Wedding cakeThe best name he ever gave me was Mrs. Stephen Burgess.

On the first of January, 2010, I decided to start keeping track of these morning-greeting-dessert-type nicknames. I have done it faithfully every day through today and will keep on doing it as long as this morning greeting goes on. He even does it when I’m traveling and email may not be available to me. He does it on Saturdays and Sundays if he has to go into his office. It is too precious to me to ever forget or take for granted. (It also makes me hungry…)
And so today I present the first of many lists in this blog. You can watch and see if it ever repeats. It rarely does, and if it does, it is usually on our anniversary. And when that date rolls around, May 18, I close my eyes and see the cake we picked out together to celebrate.

With great love to my top chef.

Here are the first three months of 2010:

  • Little chocolate croissant
  • Little piece of Christmas candy
  • Little piece of cranberry bread
  • Little piece of Christmas stollen
  • Little scoop of amaretto-infused mascarpone
  • Little piece of candied ginger
  • Little strudel
  • Little piece of Christmas fudge
  • Little piece of lemon-glazed poppy seed cake
  • Little scoop of chocolate souffle with whipped nougat
  • Little chocolate chip cookie fairy
  • Little Madeleine cookie
  • Little gummi bear
  • Little dollop of cherry jelly
  • Little piece of Bavarian raspberry cream pie
  • Little malted milk ball
  • Little lemon bar
  • Little scoop of butterscotch pudding
  • Little sip of sweet tea
  • Little glazed cruller
  • Little cookie that never crumbles
  • Little piece of toast with raspberry jelly on top
  • Little scoop of chocolate mousse
  • Little cup of hot mulled wine
  • Little scoop of lemon custard
  • Little dark chocolate truffle
  • Little ginger snap
  • Little chocolate Éclair
  • Little piece of kahlua cake
  • Little piece of English flapjack
  • Little scoop of pomegranate granita
  • Little morsel of key lime pie
  • little piece of chocolate covered puffed molasses
  • little piece of spice cake with crème fraiche topping
  • little piece of peanut brittle
  • little sneeballen
  • little scoop of English Trifle
  • little chocolate covered coffee bean
  • little piece of brown sugar skillet cake
  • Little sugar cookie
  • Little lemon cupcake
  • Little Toll House cookie
  • Little scoop of chocolate malt
  • little Chocolate Lava Cake
  • little glazed Kruller
  • little Raspberry Clafoutis
  • little dollop of cherry jelly
  • little piece of Divinity Candy
  • little Crepé Suzette
  • little piece of New York Crumb Cake
  • little powdered sugar doughnut
  • little piece of Shoo-fly pie
  • little cinnamon Coffee Cake
  • little chocolate Easter Bunny
  • little piece of Easter candy