This was a blog I posted to another blog created by a former graduate student. He graduated from the school where I work as a librarian. The domain went dormant. I re-post it here because it came up in conversation on Friday with a doctoral student interested in Theopoetics, and practicing theology in the art of the every day. Enjoy!
Once the students go home for summer vacation, I don’t know what to do with myself. It takes me a week to get my bearings again. The hallways, offices, library and even the bathrooms are all empty. I ask myself, “What am I going to do now?” “Who am I serving, now?” I come to work every day because of the students. I am here to help them along their journey to understand, to learn, and to find the information they need to be successful in their studies. What is a service-oriented librarian to do?
Now, let’s face it, librarians, in general, are not social creatures. Most want to be left alone. I am not that way at all. I’m too social. From the music (quietly) pumping from my office, to the big “Hello’s’ and raucous conversations I have with people in the library reading room, I am the anti-librarian. I love to be in the classroom or working one-on-one with students, sharing what I know about how to conduct research so that the students have an easier time finding the critical information they need. I’m out there and ready to answer questions. I actually ask people, roaming the stacks looking a bit lost, “You all set,” as if to say, “Put me in coach, I’m ready to play.” I’m seeking to help. Once the students leave for summer vacations, internships and travel abroad I feel as though I have lost my identity. Typing inventories and organizing records is part of my job and it will ultimately help someone who browses our website, but it is not the reason why I became a librarian. The immediate satisfaction of serving someone one-on-one is a lost art these days in libraries and archives, where everything is digitized. I’m trying to bring back that personal touch. Sitting down with someone and showing them how to find something in a new and different way is a spiritual experience. I want people to walk away saying two things, 1) I learned something valuable and 2) I had fun doing it. If I meet those two goals after each interaction then I have succeeded.
My work is a way for me to live out the Jesuit model I was taught at the College of the Holy Cross. We are all “Men and women for others.” My spirituality is not based on the belief system that once my number is up and I arrive at the pearly gates before [insert your higher power here] that He (or She) will go through the spreadsheet that is my life and say, “Kara, I’m sorry, but we cannot grant you admission to [insert your brand of utopian afterlife]. I see, there were simply not enough trips to church and too many hamburgers. If you could, please get on this elevator. It is a one – way trip to [insert your brand of the non-so utopian afterlife].” Instead, I envision a more compassionate Being that sees my positive actions and is understanding of my missteps. The positive energy that allows me to help others is tantamount to a positive life. Helping each other through this crazy world is what matters most. At work I feel most connected to my brand of spirituality when I am teaching students how to conduct research, find a book or demonstrate how to use the microfilm machine. I hope to make the world better one act at a time. Community service, teaching, and random acts of kindness are mile markers on my spiritual journey.
So again, it is summer time at Boston University School of Theology Library, who do I serve now? The answer: The churches of the United Methodist Church. I must serve the local churches and agencies of the New England Conference. Like in answering other questions in life, I just needed a perspective shift. In addition to my job as research librarian at Boston University, I am also New England Conference Archivist. Since the second year of holding this post, I have offered to go out to churches, box up their records and bring them back to the Library. Many church historians are elderly and cannot drive into Boston to drop off the records. Summer also signals the time to give workshops on records management in the local church. This year I am preparing for a trip to Vermont to spread the word about preservation and organization. I guess I am a sort of records evangelist.
Since I was able to shift my perspective, let’s see if you can shift yours. It may be easy to see this in my professional life as a librarian, as it is such a service oriented profession, but I strongly believe that you can experience this in any vocation. Businessmen, lawyers, IT professionals and others just need to make the most out of their personal interactions to find a spiritual path.
1) Start small, like I do. Try just one act. My favorite example, and that of all my fellow alumni from the College of the Holy Cross, is holding the door for the person behind us as we enter a building. The first time I experienced this in a very meaningful way was during my Freshman year at college. We would all hold the doors for the person entering the building after us. If 19-year-old young men can do this, then so can you! It shows you are a team player, invested in the well-being and safety of others.
2) Change your perspective about your work. Another word for occupation or work is vocation. The Latin root is vocātiō , meaning a call, summons. People are called to church ministry, but I also believe people are called to become teachers, therapists and librarians. These people, who have been called to their jobs, work with more heart and passion. They give more of themselves and do it all for the best reasons: to better the lives of those around them. Can’t change your perspective? Check out my third suggestion.
3) It is not all about work. The best way to get out of your self is to give to others. Get involved with a community service program or volunteer with an organization with which you are passionate. Like dogs and cats, head over to the local animal shelter. Enjoy teaching, call your local high school or community center to see if they have a tutoring program. You may just find your vocation through service. Guess what? I used to volunteer at a library!
Bottom line: Find a way to make your work life meaningful. Remember Robin Williams’ words from Dead Poets Society, “Carpe diem…Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
I was at the family homestead for an overnight on Sunday. It snowed overnight and we woke up to beautiful, wet snow frozen to the tree branches. It reminded me of the poem I wrote in 1998, published in the Duxbury Clipper in 1999, for a Freshman level poetry class. 98% of the class was about analyzing poetry, and this 2% of the class asked of us to write a poem. Great! We memorized poetry in high school. It was hard enough analyzing the stuff, now you want me to create one of my own? Well, the final result, after much revising, was this gem that appears below. Throughout the next 6 or 7 years I would go on to write more poems, become a member of the poetry circle, daring to read some of my creations to a small audience in the basement of the student center.
I was not able to post last Sunday. I was, and still am, recovering from my first trip overseas. I decided to post today’s writing from the past on #ThrowbackThursday.
The article was written in May 1999 or May 2000. I’m not sure which.
This piece was written for my college newspaper edition of Theader that featured satirical stories and reporting. Similar to the Onion does on a daily basis, The Crusader reserved the last edition of the paper each year for this fun exercise. They renamed the paper the Tomahawk, a title that would probably not fly nowadays in the current climate of rigid, political correctness.
Without further ado…. Here is my make believe news story.
Student Goes to Classes Over Break
I have been mucking about in the kitchen. I can hear the collective gasps from here. I am not good on the range. I make very simple, basic meals and probably use the microwave far too much. In an effort to change my ways, and because I’ve had a shift in dietary lifestyle, I have been very interested in getting creative in the kitchen. I have long loved looking at recipes in the fitness magazines, now I am actually trying them.
My stomach is pretty messed up so I am eating mostly veggies, proteins, and nuts. No dairy…and very limited to NO SUGAR and no grain. Yes, no sugar. It is possible. I do have some grains, but very few. My stomach is happier with less of all of those . I’ll have 1 piece of Ezekiel bread per day and that is about it. I miss the carbs, and yes there are days I slip up here and there. I am far from perfect.
The most painful hit I thought I would be forced to endure was a goodbye to my beloved pancakes. Ugh, how can I possibly live without these flapjacks of goodness? I went to the magazines, scoured the internet for Paleo versions. All of the recipes seemed to include bananas. No NO NO! I’m not a big baking-with-bananas fan, and even if I was, in MY pancakes? Hell no! Stop the madness! Also – sugar. If you do not know, bananas are just 6-10 inch scythes of sugar. They are super high on the glycemic index. An 120 gram banana is a 62 on the scale which goes to 100. Glucose equals 100. For scale, low-fat yogurt with fruit is 33, strawberries are a 1 for a 120 gram serving. There is more great information about glycemic index at this website. This is not good for my stomach due to a candida sensitivity and adrenal fatigue. The potassium and fiber are good, but at a high price, since I would never be able to digest them. (More on candida and adrenal fatigue in a later post. For now, head over to this website. I experience most of it, just not the weight gain. Well, I do have fluctuations, but no one but me seems to care because it is so minimal.)
All right, so back to pancake recipe. I thought, “what if I just leave the banana out?” What if I use coconut flakes and almond flour and maybe a dash of ground flax seed. Worth a shot, right? Everything comes out terribly in my kitchen, so my expectations were pretty low.
The basic recipe is (WARNING: You will have to make larger proportions if you are feeding more people, like 2 or 4. I live alone. None of recipe proportions work for me. I am forced to do this with every other recipe, so now it is your turn America.):
1/4 cup Bob’s Red Mill Shredded Coconut Flakes
1/4 cup of Bob’s Red Mill Almond Finely Ground Flour/Meal
1 Tablespoon of Finely Ground Flaxseed (I like the Spectrum brand, but Bob has a good one, as does every health food store)
1 teaspoon of Baking Powder (I use Argo because it is aluminum and Gluten free)
1 Serving of Egg Whites
1/2 Tablespoon of Earth Balance Original Buttery Spread (or oil of your choice)
1/3 cup of water
Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Then add wet ingredients and mix.
Heat, and grease (with canola or coconut oil) Griddle to 300-400 degrees, or place greased frypan on stovetop. Turn up the heat to about level 5.
Add enough water to create good batter consistency. Some people like their pancakes more crepe-y like me, and others like them thick. It is up to you on how dense you want your batter.
The first time I made them I did not leave them on the griddle long enough. I got one pancake out of it. I ate it and was shocked at how delicious it tasted. “By George, I’m the Gluten Free/Sugar Free Gordon Ramsey,” I thought, knowing full well someone had probably already thought of this combination of ingredients for a pancake recipe. But hey, you have got to stay motivated in the heat of battle.
The second time I made them I left them on the griddle longer. Still had some trouble flipping them over. They stayed together much better, looked and tasted better than the pancakes I was making.
I really impressed myself.
Now, if only I could get my hummus and guacamole game up to this standard I will be unstoppable. Oh yeah, and maybe stop burning chicken once a month. What can I say, I get distracted. It’s all fun and games till the smoke alarms go off.
Have a great breakfast everyone!
Is it the Prozac, or am I feeling better? Go ahead, you can laugh. Typically, things zip and zoom through my mind like the flying cars on the Jetsons. (The thoughts and feelings even make that cute noise as they whiz by. Having a great imagination is such a gift.) No longer is that the case. Part of the reason MAY be the medication, but most likely it is my rediscovered spiritual life. I say rediscovered because it was lost and then found again.
Connection and Acceptance
Peace is hard to come by. I have just been through a tough three months physically. Now I am sort of coming out of it. I am even hesitant to say that I am doing better for fear I will jinx myself. The difference between a few months ago and now is I am able to commit some time to prayer and building myself up spiritually, to connect, again. It is so difficult to do it when you are not well. Even if you do have the energy, certainly, you believe, the effort is futile. If I am not connected to something, larger than myself, I do not feel grounded.
A positive side effect of my spirituality is finding moments of acceptance once again. The moment may be big, or small. Yesterday, I could not do more than a few of the yoga poses during a class. For some reason, I was able to laugh it off.
There are multiple ways in which I connect to my spiritual world. Late in the November I got the first heavy inkling that everything would be okay. I went to the Museum of Fine Art. For the first time, I felt completely relaxed. How did I know? I could feel that my shoulders were at their proper level, well below my ears.
Prayer: It doesn’t have to be hard on the knees
A few days later someone suggested that I pray or meditate. I said to myself, “I don’t want to do this. this isn’t me. My knees can’t tolerate that stress.” So in order to take a step in the right direction, I started writing, things that I wanted to say to God. It flowed out of me onto the paper of my journal. I felt a bit better. I continued the practice a few more times and the good vibes continued to flow. I also wrote a list of the year’s accomplishments and things I am grateful for.
I pray through art, drawing, painting, writing, exercise, yoga. I believe that emotions can get locked inside our body and different types of exercises help to release them. The same is true for artistic pursuits.
A few weekend’s later I went to a Christmas party. I was nervous. My brother would be there. Would he be nervous/pissed that I was going to this party? I went at the urging of another friend. It went beyond well. I connected with my brother, talked to him about the mundane and the significant. It was so great that I got in my car and cried tears of joy and sadness. How could I have been so nervous about seeing and spending time with my brother for all these years? How could I have possibly thought it would go terribly?
And so the universe answered my questions with Mary Poppins. I arrived home and it was on broadcast TV. A movie my brother and I would watch together when we both were younger. There are no coincidences.
Conquering Lies with the Ultimate Truth
My brain lies to me. My brain has always lied to me…and 36 years later I still believe it. How lucky was I that I have spirits, or God, or the universe, in my life to make that weekend and these realizations possible? Truly blessed.
I have the power to put a stop my mind from spinning out of control through writing, creating, drawing, and finding various other ways of talking to the cosmos. (This week I have been playing with some Crayola molding clay. It was a gift in every and all senses of the word.)
Every thing I do, every move I make is to try to enhance my spiritual connection. If I focus on that, I am able to allow the emotions, the nerves, the pain (physical and mental) wash over me, mindful that the world will hold me safe in the palm of its hand.
This paper was written and submitted for an art history course I took in 2001, during the fall semester of my senior year of college. The focus of the paper are two artists’ renderings of an exterior and an interior of two different sacred spaces. The artists are Giovanni Battista Piranesi’and Jean-Baptiste Isabey, the latter’s work I could not find on the internet. (Slide libraries are still vital resources for this reason!)
I wish I could tell you I remember writing this paper, but I do not. I do remember my days at Holy Cross being filled with lots of contemplative looking at art, architecture, and literature. Clearly, this paper reveals the beginning of what art means to me. I recognize, below, how time and human kind is ephemeral, too. To be humbled is the very goal of contemplative viewing of art. This act of viewing is the most significant way in which I choose to grow closer to God, and stronger in my spirituality. A spirituality that is the heartbeat of my soul.
I hope to really, truly be humbled in a week when I travel overseas for the first time. There, I will see some of the greatest works of art ever created. Perhaps, I will even see those which I write about in this short essay.
I wonder what I will feel, what will change in me, about me, once I have seen such works of artistic historical value. Will it completely change my life course? Will I be called to a higher office, or different vocation? Will the notion that my life, my thoughts that burden me so much each and every day, will be seen for what they are? Negative distractions…diversions…taking me away from what is truly important: A life filled with purpose, driven by creativity and endless forms of expression in which to indulge? Yes, I have to sustain a life for myself with money made at work. But is there a way to balance art and life…on life’s terms?
As I continue to seek, I can only hope there is balance to be found. I hope this trip is the tipping point.
Happy reading! And again my apologies for any formatting issues.
Both Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s Remains of the Villa of Maecenas of Tivoli and Jean-Baptiste Isabey’s Interior of the Church at Graville from Voyages Pittoresques show the viewer a sense of strength that the art world had last seen in classical art. The subjects of the etching and lithograph are fitting since it depicts classical architecture and the medieval Gothic arch which is the quintessence of balance and symmetry.
The Roman arch is present in the Piranesi etching and from this construct the viewer slowly sees the size of the arches diminish into the right side of the painting. The eye is drawn immediately to the right due to this progressing diminution of the colossal structure. One knows it is larger than life and strong enough to last for the centuries it has because it is juxtaposed with the fragility of man’s life through the dwarfed dot-sized figure at the center of the etching. The viewer is busy contemplating the age and the endlessness of the Temple and passes right over the figure of the man, who could very likely be any man and “Everyman”, and in a sense Piranesi says that we can never hope to outlive these great, timeless structures. From the viewer’s point of view, the villa could go on for miles, reaching its vanishing point hundreds of miles from from where the viewer stands. The length and size of the structure also makes it evident that the viewer must be many city blocks from where the figure stands. The portion of the villa closest to the left side of the etching is far sharper and has a three-dimensionality that the portion of the etching of the right does not have. The right side is far more two-dimensional and much lighter in color. The value lessens gradually from dark greys and blacks to a light granite color and off whites that on the left side can only be found on the marker near the small coniferous tree.
The strength and grandeur in Isabey’s lithograph lie in the gothic arch and the stone that the arch was constructed by. The arch flexes its muscles, while the comparatively small figure of the workman sits hunched over, in a quasi fetal position, with a rounded back. He has a soft, robust appearance among the sharp lines and rough, aged stone. The eye is directly drawn to those lit portions of the lithograph. Parts of the columns are highlighted showing the length of the sides of the church. Then the eye quickly must move off the foreground and retreat to the background, revealing the hint of light illuminating a fraction of the stained glass window. In noticing, the stained glass window we see how off center and unbalanced the arches are. The neoclassical artists revived the architecture from the classical period because of the many archeological discoveries being made during the 18th century. However, the neoclassical artists did not want to merely imitate the classical artists so they added their own contemporary influences to this revived history. The arches are off balanced because Isabey had something to say about time and eternity that went beyond the ideals of classicism.
Isabey’s lithograph speaks volumes about time and eternity. The viewer stands at the edge of the painting as if he is looking back into the past from eternity. He sees at the center of the lithograph, in the dark, a holy figure, welcoming those who enter the church and offering them eternal life if they believe in God. The stone arches strength this image of eternal life, proving to the person entering the church that they are safe within these arches. The arches have surely been there for thousands of years, however, the feeling of eternity the viewer and the person entering the church feel disappear at the sight of the workman sitting at the entrance. The light illuminates the figure which appears to be hunched over weakened by the strong arches that will undoubtedly outlive him. The viewer is then reminded that life is not eternal, but ephemeral. The light too is ephemeral, for it will change its position soon and illuminate some other part of the interior of the church, leaving behind in the darkness the workman. The light is life, the dark is death and the man has little time before his light is extinguished and he is dead. However, the everlasting marble or stone can outlive the light and the lives of the millions of people who have crossed over this church’s threshold because of its careful symmetrical construction. The juxtaposition of these two ideas of the eternal and the ephemeral make the human heart ache.
The theme of eternity is evident in the Piranesi etching. This time the viewer is standing with all of eternity before them for the viewer to capture. It seems this Villa could go on forever, because of Piranesi’s use of linear perspective with a specific vanishing point focused on a tower or steeple on the far right side of the etching. The eternity seems forever elusive, one could run through the vanishing point and still not have found it. The structure of the villa is a representation of eternity in that it will be there, in spite of war, famine, death, natural disasters and the birth of life, proven by the vegetation that is growing up, over and around the ruins. Piranesi further eternalizes this ruin by depicting it in an etching that can be recreated many times, even after he has past away. Piranesi has left his mark on the world forever through this piece. He seems to challenge the viewer to do the same, for man cannot live forever, but must create something that will, as the Romans have through this Temple.