Thursday, August 30, 2007

Father Giussani

Ok, I love it when things like this happen.

Off and on (more off in the past and more on recently) I have been attending School of Community, the catechetical facet of the lay Catholic movement Communion and Liberation. Repeatedly I have found that things will bubble up in my heart, I will take them to prayer at my Wednesday evening holy hour, and then at the Thursday morning group somehow that very thing will come out in discussion, reading, something.

Well, this morning after a general chit-chat (as it was the first gathering after the traditional schooling year started, and was more populated than the summer gatherings) some of us watched a documentary on the life of the movement's founder, Father Luigi Giussani.

I was just waiting for the word to pop up in the DVD: intensity. I'd say it took about three minutes. At first I smiled and thought "oh, that's nice." But as the movie proceeded, well, it is hard to reduce to words the power of what transpired.

Last night I wrote:

Now I see it as plain as day: what I need to do is not worry about the feeling of "leaving" people with my intensity, because I'm not leaving them. In reality, I am more with them, and I leave them when I try to just tone it down. So, the call is to --simply-- be myself, and be real.

Today I would say Fr. Giussani's life communicated things several steps deeper to me. First of all, encountering Christ sort of blasts me to my human core. I need Christ to be fully real. There was something he said that was so powerful; I felt it more than mentally recorded it, but essentially the point was that God's love is radical affirmation of who we are as human beings. Oh, my Lutheran roots, or maybe barnacles is a better term.... Who I am, radically as a human, is NOT sin and total depravity. There is that which God radically affirms with His love. What He loves, what He affirms, He transforms, and this is holiness. We are transformed under the gaze of Christ. But this doesn't mean he denudes us and rips out our humanness as so much garbage. He raises us up in the grace of Christ our Head, and fills us with His very beauty and life.

Secondly, more particular to my musings of late. This felt like a first ever affirmation of intensity, the first time that I could say "He is intense, and it is GREAT". Instead of feeling like intensity is this scary thing to hide or get angry at or to drown. Something to be transformed by Christ? Yes, of course. But He can't transform it if I don't take it out, see it, own it, and live with it.

Liberation? Uh huh.

I felt like I spent the entire afternoon exhaling. Exhaling 20? 30? 40? years worth of anxiety over myself. Literally, I started to feel lightheaded by the afternoon because I was sighing so much!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Been Thinking About This Intensity Thing

So back about a month ago I blogged about rediscovering intensity as a facet of my life. In the last month I have to say I have seen it in action full swing, and it has been a revelation to me. In the past I've pondered long and hard about why I lock horns with my son so often, and I believe it is because he triggers my intensity with his own intensity. Or perhaps I should say that somehow, relating to my children has been the one way I have allowed my intensity to leak out. Only with my son, it hasn't worked so well.

I think the problem has been less than conscious living. I haven't been aware that my intense reactions to things are often silly, like "I opened this refrigerator to get what I need, not to have you climb in at the same time, now GET OUT OF MY WAY!!" Not being aware of them, I haven't seen the need to control and moderate this kind of outburst. I just saw the occasion as "being bothered". But once I become conscious of it, I can get a handle on it. Which also means I can see when I actually need to express something with the full thrust of my being, usually to someone who is not a child. Usually about something that does not involve refrigerators. Usually about something that involves a deep conviction, a deep longing of my heart, a need, a desire, a fear. The stuff that is harder to get to than the things I was wasting my intensity on.

Seems there's some principle in this: if you have X emotion or energy dripping out of your life over here and it is over the top or out of place, it probably really belongs over there, where there is a real need being ignored.

And my real need being ignored goes back to that 20s thing I discovered in my songs, about talking to people, and about what I blogged about the other day with the story of Peggy and Roger.

Quoting myself here for my own benefit (from July 31): "I think part of my struggle is that intensity is a bit of a solitary thing. And I've felt like I 'leave' people when I am in that mode. So, to be nice and good I need to stay with them and tone it down. But that just leaves me with frustration."

Now I see it as plain as day: what I need to do is not worry about the feeling of "leaving" people with my intensity, because I'm not leaving them. In reality, I am more with them, and I leave them when I try to just tone it down. So, the call is to --simply-- be myself, and be real. (Psst, it's not easy.)

Fr. Geoge Rutler on Kindergarten

Some excellent insights on the education of children from The Corner on National Review Online:

In an earlier post I noted that, after two days in kindergarten last week, our five-year old announced that she had no intention of returning. (The mood passed.) Noticing this, Fr. George Rutler, our unofficial chaplain here on the Corner, offers his own views on the proper education of the very young.

"I'd encourage your youngest one to abandon kindergarten altogether. Almost everything I learned was learned outside the classroom, and school itself interrupted my education. Moreover, school locks you in with your peers. That is a mistake. One's social circle should never include one's equals. From my earliest years I found children uninteresting and always preferred the company of adults. This was an advantage, because I got to know lots of folks who are dead now whom I never would have known if I had waited until I was an adult. - So I have a collective memory - and oral tradition - that goes back to the eighteenth century, having spoken with people who knew people who knew people who knew people who lived then. - The only real university is the universe and a city its microcosm. That is why an expression like "New York University" is foolish. New York City is the university….Instead of school, children should spend some hours each day in hotel lobbies talking to the guests. They should spend time in restaurant kitchens and shops and garages of all kinds, learning from people who actually make the world work….One day spent roaming through a real classical church building would be the equivalent of one academic term in any of our schools, and a little time spent inconspicuously in a police station would be more informative than all the hours wasted on bogus social sciences. Formal lessons would only be required for accuracy in spelling and proficiency in public speaking, for which the public speakers in our culture are not models, and in exchange for performing some menial services a child could learn the violin, harp, and piano from musicians in one of the better cocktail lounges, or from performers in the public subways….So I urge you to keep your child out of kindergarten, because kindergarten will only lead to first grade and then the grim sequence of grade after grade begins and takes its inexorable toll on the mind born fertile but gradually numbed by the pedants who impose on the captive child the flotsam of their own infecundity."

Monday, August 27, 2007

Acceptance of Struggle

I had friends a few years back, Roger and Peggy. Peggy suffered a stroke that greatly affected her speech, including her verbal mental processing, and her ability to walk. I had known her pre-stroke, and when I came back on vacation from Japan (this was in 1996), I went out for lunch with them. Roger made a lasting impression on me with how he was both extremely loving of his greatly-handicapped wife (compared with her former self, at least), and how he was also very upfront with how her limitations affected him. I can still hear him say to her, as we exited the restaurant, "You walk too slow for me." It seems like a cold comment in print, but he said it in such a way that conveyed his passionate love for her, his acceptance of her limitations, and his acceptance of himself as different from her. It was an amazing comment to do all of that.

I'm in the middle of a situation in life that brings Roger's comment to mind again and again. I've written about my social struggles, my way of social processing. I perceive that, although I truly have come to accept my limitations in this regard and welcome the opportunity to work through them (and work it IS), I also perceive that those I am with while I do this are made uncomfortable to a degree by witnessing my hard work.

How often with children as they are struggling to learn something, do we jump in and either over-coach them, or do it for them or otherwise tell them they don't have to struggle. It is hard to watch someone struggle with something. It makes us struggle ourselves. We feel responsible for their difficulty, and no one likes to make someone else suffer.

But I know that the only way I can master something is by struggling through. We come to expect seeing only the polished from those who lead (and in this growing thing for me, I am in a position of leadership, of a choir). We derive our security from leaders, and probably as such leaders feel like they have to exude a sense of "having it together" that isn't real.

This is an unfinished thought, as it is an unfinished process.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

This Quote Made Me Smile

"When someone asks you 'think about what Jesus would do', remember that a valid option is to freak out and turn over tables"

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Did I Ever Mention, This is My Unschooling Blog?

So, all over the country, little people are getting ready to be packed off to schools for another four months or so.

My little people will stay at home, and we'll keep plodding away like we usually do.

I've toyed with the idea of joining the Unschooling blogring, but it seems like I never specifically talk about unschooling here. On the other hand, of course I do. I talk about things that are vital to me, and it is all a part of our unschooling life.

My children are littlies, and if my older were in public school, he'd be starting Kindergarten next Tuesday. Oh, except we thought he was starting Kindergarten last year since we didn't know our public school district changed the age cut off. All that really means for us is that I have an extra year than I thought I would before I need to start notifying our school district that we won't be partaking, thank you very much, and then another 9 months before we have to start showing some proof that he's educated to an acceptable standard.

I guess it is the beginning of the rest of the world's school year that gets me thinking about unschooling. Even last year I was more nervous about it. I felt bold and different. Now, frankly, I just feel like us doing our thing. It's good that I can be rather clueless about what "other" people think, to a degree. I mean, I can do that to a degree, not that it's good to a degree. It's good to a great degree, and I'm sure I'll have more opportunity to employ the skill as time passes.

So, what do we do all the time? This and that. I think I spend most of my mental energy studying my children. That, combined with concerted attention to growth in virtue is how I have been spending my unschooling years thus far (which I reckon to be about two.) I realize that relationship is foundational, primary, non-negotiable for unschooling, since it essentially is an intense way of living together, with no school time, no curriculum to be a buffer between me and my children. So, I consider all of my pondering on this blog about my need for virtue and my search for it to be primary to our life of unschooling. Same about my passions for genealogy, music, understanding people and all the rest.

It is fun for me to realize that my son is learning to read without me having really taught him to read. Oh, I read to him quite a bit, and I read words for him, and I spell words and sound things out and encourage him to read, but I haven't sat down (in years) with a textbook and said "now we will have a reading lesson."

My daughter, well, she is scary smart anyway and will probably be reading as well as my son can now in about a year. I predict, anyway.

I see my every unschooling day as a challenge to be the best Mom I can (and boy, is that ever a loaded statement). I mean primarily to encourage my children to be fully who God made THEM and to accept simultaneously that I did not create their souls, nor can I form them into the image I desire. I am but a co-creator at best (didn't even get the biological gig on that account for my son), and I do need to answer to the Higher Authority for how I am managing His creatures. To practice wonder and awe in caring for them, and respectfully but with full endowed authority share with them wisdom in how life works best. I fail miserably every day, but I would fail more if I didn't even have a vision for what I desire to do.

Oh yeah, if they figure out some three Rs, that's good too, but that's the easy stuff!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Sounds of Silence

I harp and carp (and whatever else rhymes with arp) so much about my need for some silence. Today, I have it. My dear hub has taken our children to the county fair. I've had a few hours to plunk away at my genealogy.

I miss them!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Jobless Journeying

A few weeks back my husband got notice that he'd be losing his job as of this coming Friday.

I'll skip to the punchline; he accepted a new position today, with a slight raise to boot, right near his old place of work and within the same company umbrella: prayers answered. He gets a week of forced, but paid, vacation, which I certainly am not complaining about either as I do rather like to see him more often than just over dinner.

So, let's be Bob the Tomato and ask "What Have We Learned Today?"

I learned some things about my husband. Or rather they were reinforced. I learned how highly he values being able to take care of his family, how utterly committed he is to being responsible for our well being. He worked very hard to turn up new job opportunities from the very day of the lay off news. And it paid off.

I learned, again, that God answers prayer. I know that not everyone is able to land a job before their layoff even goes into effect, even with intense effort. I just kept praying that whatever this time needed to be for us, that it would all come to pass.

To be honest, as I told hubby a few times, I was kind of anticipating a bit more of a drama. See, the surprising thing that I experienced was that God had significant messages for me in the midst of all this. I thought He'd be doing all of His talking with the Hubster. I wasn't anticipating much for me to learn through it.

I learned I don't handle stress very forthrightly. I (still) stuff it. When it's over and the coast is clear, then I feel it, and it isn't pretty. After we learned last week that he was pretty well a shoe-in for the job he accepted, my first reaction was to be disappointed instead of relieved. I always think every trial will leave me/us perfected, but dang, that hasn't happened yet. So when it's done I think "wait! I'm not ready for it to be over yet". The insomnia started. The stressing, the teeth clenching. Depression. Angry outbursts (didn't I just blog about that?). I'm still dealing with it. Ugh.

The stuffing thing is really about me trying to be a hotshot (another thing I learned). It's about me having a hard time admitting need, feeling vulnerable, and trying instead to see if somehow me holding my breath will cause the rest of the world to breathe easier. Gee, I just blogged about that, too, without even realizing it. After the news I dipped into a bit of a dramatic "poverty mentality". Drastically changing the types of groceries I buy, for example, to avoid excess expenditures. There could be some wisdom in that if we got to the point of our financial situation actually being affected, of course. But I had the sense that in so doing I was physically expressing distrust in God's providence for us, even while verbal professing to trust Him.

It is so hard to trust God like a little child. We adults have too much figured out.

The bottom line lesson that I learned is to trust God to care for us regardless of what the circumstances look like. To not get flapped, or to not require myself to go down that road because I feel it is obligatory based on circumstances.

Another thing I learned is that I need to care for my health because I need to function well, and not just because of trying to have a baby (which has been my primary focus for the last eight years). When I stop the preventative and health-maintenance things that have become part and parcel of my life, things don't go as well for me. I can get swayed or un-enthused by people who find holistic medicine to be quackery or unnecessary, and even by myself when I wonder if spending money on, say, chiropractic and supplements is really worth it. I've been slowly dropping them, but completely dropped most everything recently, including cheating seriously on my O diet, despite my frequent self-chastisements for doing same. Not worth it!! I need to take care of myself well.

Which, for this evening, means getting to bed. Goodnight.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Anger, Apologies, and Low Sound Frequencies

This afternoon I witnessed my son do something that was very interesting to me -- humbling, but positive. We were at the local Science Center and he was engrossed in an exhibit involving physics; sort of a cross between pool and pinball, where you could alter the set up of the rubber thingies giving resistance to pool balls which you could shoot up into the table and try to get in a pocket. He was hard at work at this with another boy his age. Both were of course trying to master it and trying to outdo the other. Both would exult when they succeeded and gloat a bit when he succeeded but the other failed. And with a little groan they would persevere when they both failed. But at one point, they got into a little tussle over the ball. Here's where my son was imitating me -- he got angry at the other boy. But seconds later, he apologized for his angry outburst.

I think of these as "mentally frameable moments".

I have labored under weird notions about anger. I've actually considered it a bit of a victory that I'm able to get angry at all, right in the faces of other people. Keeping anger inside until it festers into bitterness is very unpleasant. Blow ups, I believe, are relatively much more healthy. And I do blow up more often than I'd like to admit, especially at my son. But I've learned that there's not that much harm in it, as long as I recollect myself and humble myself and take responsibility when my behavior is out of line or uncharitable or disrespectful, and apologize.

It can be very hard to apologize to a child, but it is probably easier than apologizing to an adult, because children are much more likely to quickly forgive and forget. They are Godlike in that way. At least, thank God, my son is.

Apologizing for my angry outbursts and rude behavior is not something I am proud of, because I truly wish to avoid the negative deed to begin with.

But today I realized that modeling repentance, humility, and reconciliation to our children is something that is so natural to family life that all children should learn very well how to do it by seeing their parents do it all the time. Unless the children never provoke their parents or the parents are way beyond me in their patience, good humor and tolerance.

Ok, my children at least should get pretty good at this.

And it makes me realize that God is far more concerned over my pride than my frustration threshold.

Which reminds me of a thought only slightly related that I'll tack on here for the fun of it.

One of the exhibits at the Science Center was about sound waves and how it relates to ultrasound machines. The basic layout was a continuum of sound levels, activated by waving your hand in an area that somehow tripped some kind of a laser thingy. (You can see that science is not my forte.) I moved my hand from the inaudible level to the "ultrasonic" level, and noticed the difference of the sound. Then I read more closely how the continuum was labeled. A certain section was labeled "audible to dogs" and a farther section "audible to humans". Strange, I thought. I waved my hand again over the "dog" area. It was subtle, but I could hear sound without straining. I asked my husband if he could hear it, and he just looked at me (maybe he couldn't hear me!)

No wonder I can be so hyper-stimulated by sound, if I pick up ranges that humans aren't supposed to be able to!

So, frustration level? Yep, pretty low if it involves my noise machine of a son.

The Lord has wonderful plans for all of us, including the basic adventure of learning to live with other human beings who are so different from ourselves.

Don't Seek Greatness; Seek Goodness

August 1, 2007 Message to Lay Apostles


A small child often prays that God will help him to be good. This prayer is pleasing to God. Indeed, which prayer is more pleasing? A child prays this prayer in humility and simplicity from a pure heart seeking even greater purity. It is this purity of heart that all apostles must seek. Each day should be filled with brief prayers of this kind. If an apostle wishes to reside with the Father, that apostle must become the child ofthe Father. God has no equal. Do not seek greatness. Seek goodness. My beloved ones, you know that I love you and that I am grateful for your service. You know that I am pleased with your progress. Do you wonder why your Jesus calls you constantly further into holiness? Do I do this for Mybenefit? Yes. I do. I take great joy in seeing you advance, it is true. And yet, it is for your own personal benefit, also, that I call you to strive for higher heights. I want you to become as holy as you can. As your holiness increases, my friends, so does your peace. As your peace increases, so does the peace in this world. It is for many reasons, all similar to these, that I beckon you to come further and further into My heart. You are called to come closer to Me and move further from distractions. You turn your face toward heaven and in doing so you turn your face away from the world, which seeks to draw you away from Me. For today, pledge your allegiance to the Father and then strive to become holier. "Father, help me to be good." In each moment of your life there is an opportunity for goodness. Find the opportunities and try. Exert yourself, my beloved ones. Work for your holiness. If you were participating in a game, you would try to win. I want you to participate in your movement to holiness. I want you to make efforts throughout each day to choose the holiest course. I am with you in each moment, helping you. If you, my beloved apostles, will work with Me to become holier, I can reach others through you. But that is My affair. Your affair is to try to become as holy as possible. Have no fear. You are loved.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Violence or Renunciation?

So, today's homily made me think of a debate I've held in my mind in days past. Father (sorry, I don't know his name) mentioned Jim Elliot's famous statement "He is no fool if he would choose to give what he cannot keep to find what he can never lose". And he talked about the call to give up everything for Jesus.

Give up everything for Jesus.

I used to hear this and wonder about my own natural tendency to do violence to myself. At the last School of Community session I was at, I shared my experience of putting all my Monkees albums in a dumpster because of being persuaded that to follow Jesus I had to give up everything "of the world". The Monkees were part and parcel of my psyche growing up. It was like renouncing ones family might feel in some cultures; ripping one's own soul out.

And now I remember something in yesterday's homily, mentioned in conjunction with the wheat and the tares -- how the farmer said to leave them growing together lest you destroy the good with the bad. In the end they would be separated out and judged for what they are.

So Jesus definitely does not seem to advocate doing violence to one's own soul, ripping it apart. What then are we to renounce? No, let's say what am I, right now, called to renounce? Sin, yes, always. Renounce the idea that things bring happiness. Things are not bad, but they are penultimate. Too many things, or the desire for many things, actually bring sadness. But if things help us serve God, truly, that is a good thing. But something that requires discernment.

Perhaps the answer is to follow God's call at any moment, to not be overly attached to things, but not to fear loving creations, either. To know that God has created so that we might enjoy.