Monday, July 30, 2012

Trouble Praying the Rosary

Last year, I figured out that my mysterious recurrent eczema was coming from my rosary.

It had taken me 4 years to finally put the pieces together.

I generally say the Office of Readings, but when I go in the field, I don't like to pack the breviary, which at that time was already fairly battered. My rosary is much more portable, so I would say that.

My hands tended to break out in little weird bumps during field season, but since I was spending 10 hours a day digging, often in clumps of poison ivy, I figured it might be ant bites or a contact allergy from soil or plants. I also had to wash my hands multiple times a day and of course couldn't bring my GOOD lotion in the field because it is in such a big, terrorist-y bottle that it can't get through security.

Then I started noticing that even when I was back working in the lab, I would get what a couple of friends identified as eczema.

I switched lotions from my fun, scented lotions to Aveeno unscented products, and that helped cut down on a lot of it. However, there could still be weeks of this weird, moderately annoying skin condition.

I finally figured out it was my rosary because the eczema was now confined to only those spots on my hands that the rosary beads touch. I was using one of those rose-petal ones, and since fragrances can irritate sensitive skin, I switched to a plain wooden one. Sorry, Confirmation sponsor!

All was well, but when I started saying the Rosary every day recently, I found myself breaking out again, though to a much smaller extent than before. I don't break out the second I pick up a rosary, just if I use it for more than a few days.

I am still praying it every day! I just alternate days with the actual rosary beads, using my fingers, and the excellent website

I thought it might be a classy move to just use gloves, but the only ones I have available are lab gloves -- and I do get tired of wearing them all day long.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The time to stop cleaning up glass...

is when you kneel in it and your leg starts to bleed.

That is all.

Monday, July 23, 2012


How am I supposed to relax in the evenings when I take a shower to relax and end up thinking about statistics? Seriously???

I got off work "early" at 5:30, got home, and was all excited about reading books and watching TV. Instead I spend several hours freaking out over work.

Then I took a shower to relax and transition to bedtime, ended up drawing all over my mirror to try to crack a problem I'm having with serial dilution statistics.

That worked about as well as one might have expected, but at least my mirror got cleaned when I wiped all the dry-erase ink off. Hey, at least I didn't waste paper.

Except then I sat down and worked on paper.

Then I started looking up articles on statistics for serial dilutions. It doesn't look promising. Whenever you see the words "Bayesian" or "Maximum Likelihood" in the titles, you know you're not likely to get to just take the mean and standard deviation and go for a walk or something.

My brain needs to learn to turn off or something.

At least tomorrow, I get "MasterChef." Ah, the fury of Gordon Ramsay, sending my brain into sweet, sweet oblivion.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Experiments in Virtue

I just got done reading "The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment," by A. J. Jacobs. It was a quick read and quite entertaining.

Jacobs, also the author of "The Year of Living Biblically," and "The Know-It-All," frequently tries out different modes of living and then writes essays or books about them. For one month, he was Radically Honest, saying absolutely everything that came into his head. Another month, he outsourced all his email and shopping to India. He went a month fully concentrating on the present task, rather than multitasking. Another month, he was completely obedient to his wife.

He is a likable and humorous writer, but what I had not expected was how, from each experiment, he succeeded in holding on to some lesson. He decided to go back to giving "white lie" compliments, but to stop lying to get himself out of trouble. He started closing his eyes during phone calls so he could concentrate on the conversations. He and his wife discovered they had been getting way too snarky with each other, and both started treating each other with more consideration.

I think all Catholics can relate to this life of experimentation, because we do it at least every Lent. Read the whole Bible. Say the Rosary every day. Go on a retreat. Start saying the Office of Readings. Volunteer. Give alms.

We enter these actions with as little intent on lifelong commitment as Jacobs does, but with the hope that we will find some lasting benefit.

Outside of Lent, we can have other experiments in virtue when we join parish groups or start volunteering. I think this area is a little more scary; Lent ends every Easter, but we could keep on teaching that 3rd grade Bible class until we die (or move). SCARY!!! OH NOES!!! But, really, it's not like we're taking vows to these activities.

We must walk a fine balance between fickleness and slavish loyalty. We do not take vows to stay in the choir forever, or even to lead Newman Center retreats until graduation day.

When we are children, we want to quit activities as soon as our fantasies crash up against our real limitations. We can't play the piano (even after 1 week) like the prodigy on the latest musician-worship movie, so we want to quit. Well, so we've discovered it won't be all that easy for us. It's in those moments that our parents encourage us to keep going.

It's an important lesson, but I think that for some people, it needs to be re-examined.

On Seraphic's blog, a lot of college women write in worried about some romantic drama in their lives with a guy in their Newman Center. The women are involved, he's involved, and they can't stand the sight of him anymore, but feel obligated to keep going to all the same activities. I've met women like this in my own life too, and I thought of them when I read A.J. Jacobs' book.

We can get a lot out of things and activities that we quit.

There can be excellent reasons for backing out.

Maybe the choir you joined has changed directors, styles, music, and just isn't that challenging or fun anymore. It used to make you happy, but now it's something you dread each week. You aren't getting paid to be there; you don't need to keep going. The musical skills you learned there will still be with you in the next choir you join.

Maybe the Newman Center Bible Study used to be a fun place where you deepened your faith and made great friends. Now you are supposed to be a "leader," but you don't really like being the organizer, and you don't like going because you have to watch your ex-crush flirt with his new crush. What used to pick you up after a tough week is now the worst part of it.

So stop going.

Look, if you are a "leader" in college, you already know that life will move on for the organization after you graduate. You are allowed to move that day up a little bit. Try Mass at the nearby parish. Go to one of the other groups at the Newman Center. Start a prayer group instead. If you go for 1 semester to the nearby parish, you could just go back to being a participant, rather than dealing with the stress of planning and cajoling your fellow students.

If you are frustrated with your current schedule, make a little experiment. Drop the extracurriculars you don't enjoy and replace them with something. Just for a month. Or a summer. Or a semester. Plunge in whole-heartedly, and reassess at a specific date. If you miss the old group, the drama will have died down, and you can go back with less worry.

If you have actually been sitting on the sidelines and are bored or lonely, make an experiment of joining some group. Purposely decide on a time to evaluate whether you should stay in or leave.

I like the Jacobs way of life, and I realize I've been following it for a long time. I tend to stick with things, but the freedom in beginning new ventures without making a big commitment has helped me be more social and creative.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Total Gift of Self?

Seraphic recently wrote on her blog that she and her husband don't really like the phrase "total gift of self" from John Paul II's theology of the body. They think it is weird, kind of funny, and rather unsexy, but that perhaps it is a phrase that sounds better in Polish than in English.

When I think of the total gift of self, I think of spider mating habits and the "nuptial gift" of the spermatophore.

The spermatophore, also produced and given away by many different male insects, is a ball of fatty, protein-rich food mixed with sperm that is made of most of his body weight. That little male spider on the left in my blog photo is holding a white spermatophore, about to offer it to the big brown female. He gives this to his mate. The food may be essential for her to get the nutrition to make all the eggs that will become their 1000s of adorable baby spiders. Alternatively, eating the food may just be a big distraction that keeps the female from mating with other spiders.

Either way, the male has just given away most of his body weight in the form of a big ball of food and sperm. He doesn't get to mate again (usually). He doesn't get to live very much longer.

Praying mantises and black widow spiders, who kill and eat their mates, are an obvious cliche, but though it's a little more total, it doesn't seem much like a gift.

When you know all of this stuff about weirdo invertebrates, it's hard not to think that human sex pales in comparison (in terms of the self-gift idea). That's not to say that I want 75+ lbs of fat and sperm placed in my ovipore by a spouse in his last minutes of life!

Speaking of which, I really must get to writing "The Ovipore Monologues" some day.

I'm just sayin' that it's a lot easier for me to conceptualize "self-gift" as the acts of charity and service that take place throughout a marriage than to be very impressed with the gift of semen. Or is that not what the Pope meant? Perhaps I have interpreted his writings too literally. Wouldn't be the first time that's happened. Human men have to give other stuff to their wives to keep them happy. The engagement and wedding rings, a significant portion of the man's salary, could be seen as a nuptial gift. Oh, because it is! Riiiight, the spider thing was named AFTER the human marriage convention.

Now I am more confused about sex than ever.

Friday, July 20, 2012

When PotF turns into TMI

I am back on blogger! I was busy finishing my dissertation, moving, and starting a new job all last year, but I am feeling the urge to reconnect with strangers on the Internets, so here we go.

I have begun attending an Extraordinary Form High Mass in my new town. I go to the OF for daily Mass and when I'm out of town. I love the EF for Sunday Mass because it feels different enough from daily Mass to warrant the extra half hour. Horrible Catholic that I am, I found myself getting impatient with Sunday Mass when I started going to daily Mass regularly. It all just felt like there was unnecessary padding.

I like the meditative aspect of the EF. I have a busy workweek and spend a lot of my free time thinking about my next experiments, so I find it quite refreshing to spend time in silent prayer. I am not good at doing silent prayer in my house, with my laptop beckoning.

One of the things I appreciate, about all the Masses in my new town, is that the Intercessory Prayers (aka Prayers of the Faithful) in Mass are very nicely written.

In my old town, a layperson would read off some lovely, rather long PotF. The priest would then start taking requests from the congregation. At one parish, the majority of these were "For a special intention, we pray to the Lord." A small percentage were general, such as "For all those struggling with addiction..." or "For those traveling..." It was always a little awkward when some people spoke over each other, or if they forgot to say "We pray to the Lord," and the priest had to say it for them. My least favorite prayers (and yes, I rank prayers according to how they please ME) were both prayers to God AND news bulletins for the congregation. My favorite of these were 1) short and 2) involved people I might actually know or have seen at Mass, such as "For Marjorie, who isn't here today because she is having heart surgery..." or "For Mrs Tuttle, who moved from here several years ago and just lost her husband this weekend..." The most embarrassing were evolving prayers for chastity from the newly dating couples that then ceased when the couples were married. The most annoying were long, detailed stories that really could have been summarized in one phrase.

"We pray for Elizabeth and Jane, who have both recently experienced disappointment in love, the first from a young man who seemed interested and then went out of town with no explanation given, and the second from a man whom she detests and whom she thought detested her, and he does but also loves her despite himself and his loathing for her admittedly problematic family, and anyway, we just pray they don't become spinsters and that their mother stops being rather a trial and that their younger sister repents of her libertine ways, let us pray to the Lord," could easily be condensed into "For God's blessings on the Dashwood family."

It was a temptation for me, judging other people's prayers. I shouldn't have, I knew I shouldn't have, and sometimes I succeeded in not doing it very much. I am very grateful that now I only pray for things that are phrased in a short sentence.

The Internet holds a greater temptation for me, because of the numerous prayer requests on Catholic blogs. I skim the really long stuff just to see what the point is, say a quick prayer, and move on. Unfortunately, the more detailed the post is, the more chance there is that I may end up reacting out of negative emotion rather than Christian fellowship and charity.

"Please pray for Catherine, who is struggling in her relationships and has a life-threatening cold" gets a nice prayer.

"Please pray for my darling mistress Cathy. She is in passionate love for her adopted brother, who is the love of her life, but she married another man out of greed and childishness because her dear brother was too poor and uneducated for her at the time. She loves him, though he has raised her nephew to be an illiterate reprobate who tortures and kills animals. Despite his declared intentions to destroy the life of everyone around him, including his emotionally and physically abused wife (the sister of Cathy's husband), Cathy longs to run away with him. She got pneumonia when she ran round the rainy, freezing moor hoping to commit adultery. Please pray for her speedy recovery and happiness." This prayer will get a very different gut reaction from me. Rather than sympathy, I feel horrified shock. I find it hard to say nice prayers for strangers when I am in horrified shock.

I should keep these feelings to myself, and I certainly mustn't put an outraged comment on a blog post that is just a prayer request, but I can't help but wish that either the friend who'd sent in the prayer request OR the blogger who posted it had eliminated at least a little bit of the TMI that was bound alienate at least a few Catholics.

Then again, perhaps lurid details make a blog's readership pray more urgently. Who can say? Tragically, the universe does not revolve around me, so if most of the Catholics out there are inspired by long prayer requests, then we should keep on doing them!

My general attitude, though, is that God knows the details, and I don't have to. In fact, it's better that I not know them. So please, if you want prayers, but you think if some people know the full story that they might get upset, just ask for the prayers, whether in Mass or on the Internets, and give the poor Newsies a day off.