About Me

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I work as a teacher, poet and spiritual director at a number of institutions in the DC area. My teaching focuses in various ways on writing, poetry, Spirituality and Christian vocation and ministry - especially from the point of view of the laity. I also offer classes and retreats encouraging people to explore their inner lives, engage their creativity and reflect on their beliefs about God, vocation, and how we can discern and pursue new ways to transform our broken world. I enjoy speaking of faith in the secular academy as well as reminding those preparing for ministry in the Church that our primary purpose is to love and serve the world beyond the church's doors. I love helping people to grow in faith and to find their own voices, and I also love encouraging them to use their minds. I see no contradiction between these impulses, believing as I do that faith, reason and creativity work together.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"my house"

"Es su casa" -- "It is your house." The cab driver said this to me last week, in Barcelona, as we pulled up to the American embassy. The day before, my purse had been stolen in what we later learned was a pretty familiar scam in southern Europe -- We heard a noise in the back of our rented car, someone waved us to the side of the road and then came up to the window to tell me we had a flat tire. The purse must have been taken when my husband got out of the car to check the tire, which was not flat. We drove on, and I missed the purse only when we stopped for gas a few minutes later.

As anyone knows who has experienced it,it's a terribly vulnerable feeling - I lost pretty much everything that I was enjoying having with me for our trip - our camera and all the pictures on it, not downloaded, my Spanish dictionary and guidebooks, which helped me enjoy the adventure of exploring and coping in a language I know only moderately well (that's probably being generous), the purse itself. And of course my passport, identifying me as an American citizen and making me "legitimate" in the country. It was good I was traveling with my husband, who had some credit cards that we didn't have to cancel (all had been used immediately), and access to money. But I had nothing of my own. And I was on my own on this trip to the consulate.

Traveling always makes me aware of the arbitrariness of what I think of as necessary. There is some freedom in packing only what I need for the journey, and leaving all of my other "stuff" at home. There is gratitude in recognizing that we can afford the trip and even some setbacks. And I have a sense of adventure about exploring a new small town - before Barcelona we had started off on the Costa Brava, and figuring out how to buy water, find a cafe, make my way in a place where people's habits, money, daily routines are different from what I'm used to, and blending into that. I even enjoyed that sense of simplification that came with having "everything I could possibly need" tucked into that single bag that I carried with me at all times - passport, camera, ipod, cell phone. But now all of it was gone.

With it all gone, that sense of what I "need" calls for revision, even as I hustle, now that I'm home, to replace things -- credit cards stopped, cellphone replaced, other things I'm deciding to do without for awhile.

On this adventure, the first thing I absolutely "needed" was that passport, and it felt at the time like a really important sign of who I was in this strange city where I'd just been the victim of a crime. Without it, no one would know who I was or where I was from. And without it, I couldn't get home. "Home." That's what I needed - the assurance that I could indeed get home again.

I've never been so glad to see an American flag as I was when I saw the flag waving over the US consulate that day in Barcelona (And by that I don't mean that I am NOT glad to see American flags in general - this isn't about my patriotism -- but just that American flags aren't usually something I notice a lot). This consulate was "my house." ("su casa," the driver said). They spoke English -- they understood what it was like to lose that lifeline to home. They had heard of other people being victims of this same crime (In fact "flat tire scam" was on the checklist of ways one might have lost a passport. There was something perversely consoling about that). The kind woman behind the desk assured me, in perfect English, that they could get me a new passport that day and told me how. Then she said with genuine compassion, "It's really hard, losing your whole purse." And that's when I finally started to cry, almost 24 hours after the crime itself. And yes, she had a kleenex. And yes, it was OK to cry now. This was "my house."


  1. This interestingly comes up the same day I read the lead story in the June Harpers on the White House, in a certain sense, no longer being our house, but instead, being the incumbent's house. That is, it was detailing a sort of change from a day when the White House was our house which we loaned, to a present in which it is expected that we show a certain bow-and-scrape. (The occasion was the Jim Webb kerfluffle.)

  2. I'm really sorry to hear that you got your purse stolen during your trip!
    Very thoughtful post -- Thank you.
    I'm not quite sure what to say about looking at this from a spiritual perspective -- To me, it brings forth that question one hears a lot: "Why do bad things happen to good people?"

  3. what an eloquent post on what must have been a very difficult, frustrating, heart breaking, time. Blessings on the "rebuilding effort."

  4. I found this post very moving on a number of levels. First it was a very helpful reflection on what it means to be an American in a time when I often feel ashamed of what my government is doing in my name around the world-and "the flag" is reduced to stupid questions about lapel pins to trip up political candidates. I feel sort of silly that I always feel a sense of thrill when approaching the Canadian-American Border and get ready to answer the question "where are you from" and "where are you going". I am from the United states and I am free to go, but I am coming home soon.