Monday, June 30, 2008

AMA Wants States to Ban Homebirthing

I'm not quite up with the latest, breaking news, apparently. But in case anyone else is in my same boat, did you hear the one about the AMA passing a resolution for a legislative push across the country to make it harder to have a home birth? Yep, it happened just a week ago or so.

You can Google it and find tons of discussion. Or here is a link to get you started.

Next question is, should I get me started on this?

If I ponder hard on this post, and my previous two, I get the sense of looming shadows of totalitarianism creeping over the land.

This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine...

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Future of Food

I recently watched the documentary The Future of Food. It is an extended discussion of genetically modified organisms, and I found it fascinating. I would like to spend some time doing a bit of research into these ideas. If anyone has resources that point to strong scientific arguments for the benefit and food safety of GMOs, send 'em my way.

As one of the endorsement blurbs says of this movie, if you eat food, you need to watch this!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Good that I Would, I Do Not

I have a struggle. It is an irrational struggle. It is irrational because after years of searching, searching that came at the price of my will being moved (with difficulty) out of a stupor to even begin searching, I have answers; but I find it such a challenge to use the answers I have been given. I am forever in this state of denial of my actual need.

Here's the deal. A variety of things conspire together in my body to give me two interrelated problems: hormonal imbalances and low-grade depression. I'm not sure exactly how long this has been my biochemical reality, but it has been a long time, like since childhood. Both are very subtle problems, and they leave one feeling like one should be able to "snap out of it" by choice. Moreover I grew up around other depressed people, so until I was nearly 30 I never really questioned whether it were possible for me to live a different way.

After I returned Stateside from Japan, I stayed for a short time with friends, Leo and Mina, in Milwaukee. They are warm-hearted, sociable Filipinos, and Mina is a pediatrician. So when I sat in my room all day curled up in a blanket and slept until noon, they did not consider this normal. Mina gave me a B-complex vitamin one day, and the next morning I woke at 8 with actual energy. It was amazing. Over the next months I began, with great difficulty, to have the will to figure out what my body needed. Because depression saps desire to act for one's own good, it can be a very sticky wicket from which to emerge.

Two years later, I got married, and shortly it became clear that we weren't having success achieving pregnancy. By then I saw patterns in when depression would grab me and the difference between my depressed state and my normal state. With great trepidation and courage, I made a medical appointment to start pursuing what was going on with my body. After I explained to the doctor that I believed I had hormonal imbalances and I was struggling with depression, he patted me on the knee and said "oh, don't be sad." I don't react quickly in the moment, but out of that completely inappropriate comment grew my belief that I need to be responsible for my own health (which definitely was not my paradigm at that time!)

So, fast forward this story a bit. I finally found someone who believed in full hormonal testing, confirmed my problem, took medication, supplements, changed my diet and my entire approach to health. Depression became very rare in my life. My daughter was born.

Since that time I have been working with a Naturopathic physician. Testing with him also has shown hormonal imbalance, and I've undertaken a program of supplementation and diet that has proven very effective for keeping depression at bay, at least when I use it. And here comes the irrational part.

In days gone by, I took my pills and shots religiously. At one point I took a dozen pills on a set daily schedule, along with temperatures and pulses four times daily. The prescriptions I refilled looked very formal and serious (and were dreadfully expensive). At the end of each cycle I called the nurses at Pope Paul VI for a "cycle review". I was like a student fulfilling the most strenuous expectations of my teachers for over two years. Dr. Hilgers even complimented me on my diligence when I saw him for my third surgery for endometriosis. All this time I didn't even stop to question why I was still not achieving pregnancy despite monthly blood draws which usually showed decent hormone levels. And so it was completely devastating that my third surgery showed that my condition was worse than before the first two surgeries -- something I am told has only happened with five other of his patients (out of how many thousand?).

After that devastation I shifted responsibility for my own health care into high gear and discovered what chiropractic, Traditional Chinese medicine, and diet could do for my health. (If you want to debate whether there is any validity to these, please take it up with my daughter.) So. My paradigm now is that I have no one whom I perceive to stand over me and grade how well I care for myself. I know that if I take the nutraceuticals my Naturopath recommends, I'll be ok. I know that I need to avoid certain foods like wheat that trigger depression, I'll be ok. I have tested these things over and over again, and I know what the consistent results are. That, my friend, is another way to say that is I've figured -- several times -- I could give up the regimen and be ok, and I'm just not. (You can consult with my whole family on this one.)

So, why is it so hard for me to do it? Why is it so hard to honor what I know I need? Why, when it is all just my responsibility (there are no prescriptions to refill), do I doubt that my need is real? Have I been so brainwashed into thinking that someone else has to control my health care that I struggle with taking self-control seriously?

Writing this is my act of accountability. If I publicly state I know what I need to do, I am more likely to stick with it. This, too, I have discovered .

Perhaps while I'm at it should also state that I need to drink more water and keep exercising!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Praying in Tongues

On Wednesday evenings I have a commitment at one of our local perpetual adoration chapels. I often go with a heart bursting with its need for silence, or a heart brimming with conversation with Jesus, or a heart full of thoughts of Him.

Tonight my heart felt like gravel in a coffee can. Every movement made unsettling clangings.

Ok, so I tried some of the things that are necessary when the romance of prayer is not sweeping me off my feet: intercession, spiritual reading, acts of the will towards my desired destination. It was rough.

I pulled out of my purse the notes I had taken at the CL Spiritual Exercises (which, unlike other people, I have not posted on my blog). Oddly enough (there is mild sarcasm here), they were in a far less legible state than I recalled from their creation. As I read through them, I prayed, in a whisper, in tongues.

Now, let me cut into my narration with a necessary aside to say why I feel like I have just broken a terrible personal taboo. I have been tussling a bit in the recent past with the fact of my charismatic "heritage" if you will. I had a profound encounter with Jesus who baptizes with the Holy Spirit when I was but 19, a good 5.5 years before I became a Catholic and long before the thought even cast a shadow over my mind. Before that time I was a conservative Lutheran and after five years among a charismatic fellowship I became a Catholic. It wasn't like I stopped being a charismatic when I became a Catholic, but I did undergo a huge personal shift, culturally, theologically, devotionally, spiritually. I maintained some contact with Catholic charismatic fellowships over the years, but for the most part, when I think about those spiritual experiences, my dialect shifts, or somehow I find myself thinking with categories that I used "back then," mostly because of being focused on different things when hashing things out with fellow Catholics, and not really trying to update and sort of refresh my understandings in the fuller light of the Church. (And then again sometimes I wonder if some of our separated brethren don't understand the Church's fuller light better than some Catholics.) It seems completely normal for me to have a wonderful spiritual resonance with other Catholics who "are not charismatic." And then you get some Catholics who for various reasons are a bit hostile to "the charismatic movement". And without bringing up charismatic gifts, we could all get along wonderfully and edify each other. So, it's all a bit murky. And part of that murk tells me that somehow one doesn't go around talking (or writing, or blogging) about praying in tongues. So, consider me a murk-challenger.

So, there I was, pondering my notes and in a whisper praying in tongues. Suddenly my mind made an amazing connection! My gravel in a coffee can heart essentially was seeking to land once again in that encounter with Christ, and indeed that was what I was reading about: "He does not respond to our need with an argument but with a fact. This generates a hope I could not dream. Loyalty is needed. Leave room every instance to this providence. Every day."

I realized that for me, this prayer in tongues is a way of "leaving room," of having loyalty to the fact of an encounter I have had. It is a means that makes absolutely alive again the fact of an encounter in my little dorm room on September 17, 1987. Praying in tongues is something that I can choose to do, but in the sense of being loyal to what was given to me. It is not something I can create or make up. I should probably be very ashamed of how little I use this gift once given to me. For certainly, even though I do not understand it well, God gives nothing without purpose, as my swelling and satisfied heart attested to once again this evening.

One of the things that is so weird and yet so comforting and amazing to me about CL is how great intellectual effort was made by Fr. Giussani to describe and explain and remind of these phenomena, these spiritual experiences of life in Christ. Yet, if I look honestly into my life and see these instances where these things actually happen, it is like easier than a drop coming out of a dropper, and more silent. Boop, and it is there, God is there, God came to me. All the talking about it in the world can never do it justice, but Fr. Giussani does us a great service by seeing, grasping, sharing, these essentials. And perhaps most by calling us away from other, confusing lights like moralism and dualism.

So after I finished reading through my notes I pulled out my New Testament and read through 1 Corinthians 14. Have you read it, lately? Ah, what this tells me most certainly is that I have more to ponder, and perhaps there are some conversations I need to pursue.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Fear No One But God

So, here is today's gospel:
Jesus said to the Twelve:
“Fear no one.
Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed,
nor secret that will not be known.
What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light;
what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.
And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul;
rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy
both soul and body in Gehenna.
Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin?
Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge.
Even all the hairs of your head are counted.
So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
Everyone who acknowledges me before others
I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.
But whoever denies me before others,
I will deny before my heavenly Father.” (Mt. 10:26-33)

What struck me (hard enough to be knocked into the river) was this concept that we should "fear no one but God." Think about that. When is the last time you evaluated if you had sufficient fear of God?

I am struggling to find the words to explain how this hit me. Fear of God is awe and wonder at who God is. Fear of God is being completely bowled over by His majesty, His all-surpassing huge, great love, power, goodness, being. It is being reduced to, well, completely human proportions in the light of His being. It is seeing ourselves truly, as we truly are -- tiny specks of creation, deeply loved, but totally dependent on Him. Abject need. I am completely powerless to make myself. This is the fear of God (I think it is fair to say.)

Jesus says, fear no one, no person. No human being should be given this kind of power over me by me. It is not right for me to be defined by another human being, nor is it right for me to try to lord it over someone else and "make" them -- reduce them as Fr. Giussani would say. No other human being should have me fawning in awe and fumbling around as I try anything to win their approval. No human being should be made my god. My self, of course, is included.

It is the intimacy with Jesus that is to shape our public lives. ("What I say to you in darkness, proclaim in the light...") This of course makes us not adversaries of others, but lovers. This also means that we will be both loved and hated, embraced and misunderstood. It means we proclaim boldly what is borne of the intimacy we have known, and it means we listen reverently to the similar proclamations of others.

Then there is that line that seems so famous in CL: "Even all the hairs of your head are counted." When I heard that line in the context of the rest of what I was hearing, I was really bowled over. I never quite grasped what the big point of a number of hairs was supposed to be in communicating intimate love. But somehow I heard that the reason I am not to allow another to reduce me, the reason I am not to quiver in awe before a mere human and sin by trying to measure myself against another mere human is that the mere human God has made me is embraced with unspeakable, tender affection by my Creator. "The other person" is a tiny doot of creation, loved by God, and I am a tiny doot of creation, loved by God. Whatever scuttles we have, whatever inequalities that cause angst, are in comparison, on such a minuscule scale compared with the love that holds us both in existence.

What does it mean to acknowledge Jesus before others? Surely it is not to claim an intellectual, or even spiritual, belief that a God exists. To acknowledge Jesus before others is to say, with Him, that God makes me, and God makes you. That is ultimate, it is truth, and it is worth handing over my life for, as Jesus did. To deny Jesus? To say that I make myself, I am my own master, and I am here to usurp you and put you under my thumb: just the opposite of what Jesus came to do.

So the greatest act of love we can do for another is to remind them of who they are, charge them to be who they are: a self, held in existence by and totally dependent upon God, the God of immense, immeasurable love.

And For How Many Coins Are Two Small Fish Sold?

Do you remember this? This is how today's gospel felt to me:

I'm still working on articulating the "why" in words. Don't go holding your breath or anything...

Friday, June 20, 2008

Cutting Loose After VBS

This week has been fodder for a lot of pondering for me. It's this Vacation Bible School thing. I've been grappling all week with whether to think of it as a good thing with some difficulties associated with it, or a stupid thing with some up sides to it. Ultimately I think it just is what it is, or that is it was what it was. I spent some time chatting with my son about his experience of it as well, and chats with him are always insightful for me.

See, first it is just a bit weird as someone who doesn't do the school thing to have a different cultural exposure. Didn't I just write a post about why I'm an unschooler? Indeed I did. Boy did this verify for me the truths of what I wrote about there. Let me just go into a little vent here: Why would anyone get the idea that putting a whole bunch of age mates together is the best way to get them to focus on absorbing new information? They want to socialize! They want to get to know each other, run around, and do fun things. (Especially if they are my outgoing son.) Kids absorb things when they are in relationship with people they care about and their minds are being tickled to open up from the inside. They are not in absorption mode when being told constantly to sit down, be quiet, and pay attention! My son's main observation about this year's VBS as opposed to last year's was that "the teachers weren't as nice." We traced this rather easily to the children's behavior (not to mention his) being more unruly because what they were presented with was less interesting/more dull. However, he definitively stated "the teachers don't know what we need." I suggested to the DRE in my "I-can-get-away-with-this-because-I have-a-dry-sense-of-humor" sort of way that next year we have Vacation Karate School instead. Honestly, since we don't really have the outreach into the "unchurched" -of-the-neighborhood focus that the Protestant churches normally do with VBS, let's get the church kids together to enjoy each other, build relationships with each other and with mentors, and do something that brings them joy.

OK, that was a pretty far-ranging rant. Here's a few bullet points:

  • Getting up and out "early" every morning made me revert to a way of life that was mine when I worked 9-5. I really hate getting up and out early because the tone for my entire day becomes getting on this must-meet-expectations-of-others treadmill that I cannot break off of. Things like eating, sleeping, personal hygiene, the ability to think, the ability to relate civilly -- they all get chucked out the window and I go through my days like an automaton. I absolutely despise it. This kind of scheduling just kills me, or more like numbs me.
  • I've started reading Alfie Kohn's book Punished by Rewards, which really merits its own post. But in the opening pages he describes behaviorism as proposed by B. F. Skinner. It is really, really frightening to think about. Skinner essentially did not believe that human beings had a "self," that freedom was an illusion, and that we differ from earthworms only in the complexity of our make up. Pop behaviorism, Kohn points out, is a bit toned down when it comes to views of what human beings essentially are, but so much of what Americans do with children comes from or is comparable to Skinner's work with rats. And I saw this repeatedly being implemented during VBS. Bribes, threats, coercion, rewards, all communicating that people -- children -- are to be controlled by adults and made reliant on goodies dispensed for desired behavior. I'm not saying that I am the stellar parent or adult-with-children (let's just not use the word teacher). But it shocked me to see this playing out on such a large scale AND to see how drawn I became to bribery. This is just complete horse-pucky if one's goal is educating children towards freedom.
  • I wrote my very first letter of intent to homeschool to our Superintendent of public schools today. Amen, yea verily, so shall it be.
But one thing I experienced today over-arched even all of these swirling thoughts. I have had such a hard time being functional this week. Tonight we had the closing Mass. The Old Testament lesson for today was this gruesome thing about the Queen mother slaughtering all the potential heirs to the throne -- real great for a Mass with kids, I thought! Our priest, who is leaving our parish in a few days for a medical leave of absence, made it a rather quick Mass (in pain as he is). And yet, as he preached and as we prayed, I was struck with the beauty of even this stark liturgy. And then, as I went forward to receive Jesus, I had the most profound "aha!" moment, or perhaps I should say "duh!" moment: because of the treadmill type of mentality I had gotten into, and because of the need for my children and me to eat food, we had skipped Mass since Monday morning. It had been 3.5 days since I had received Jesus! I could feel something physical, like a melting or glowing or .... something, when I knelt afterwards. Daily Mass has been impressed upon me as part of my special needs package since nearly the first day I knew I was called to become a Catholic. And so, for the most part of the last 15 years I have gone daily, give or take. So the awareness that I was actually missing something these last several days was really a pretty new experience. Duh!

I love my life, and I want it back. I'm not in any way sorry that I volunteered to work at this, because I know that all this swirling stuff has been good for me to see. And it will make next week richer, different, than if I'd just gone on doing the regular. My "regular" isn't really regular at all. It is where the Lord meets me each day.

A friend of mine told me tonight after the little post-Mass singing time that she was so impressed with how I did the music, and that I was so good with the kids, etc. She said "You could be a music teacher!" I gave her a completely non-mock scream! But see, I know that in the midst of my "regular," my sweet Lord could pull something like calling me to something that makes me scream today. It would all be good. As long as I have Him, I can go anywhere!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Because I Can't Go to School of Community Tomorrow

I thought I would redeem my missing SoC tomorrow morning (due to VBS) by giving some focused attention to the text tonight.

Thoughts from page 54 and following of Is It Possible to Live This Way?

"Faith is recognizing that God made flesh is present in the world, in the history of the world."

As my fraters pointed out to me in our last Fraternity meeting, I do actually get this point. I see, in fact, that by this definition, Christian faith is my normal framework for seeing the world. The funny thing is that I haven't tried to produce this nor have I always noticed it. It truly is organic growth that God has brought about in me, just as James says of the farmer's crop.

"To the simple, you can reveal yourself."

How I have experienced this this week. Some of the very little children have told me "I like how you play guitar" or "you sing nice" or even "I like the way your hair looks." I was able to authentically and naturally say "Thank you!" to each of these statements. If an adult were to say these things, I'd say thank you, but with some degree of guardedness, or even downright suspicion. Or blushing. Something that betrays a difficulty in revealing myself. The simplicity of a child is a beautiful thing that somehow draws beauty from me. I'm thinking of the types of magic tricks where someone pulls flowers out of an empty vase or a quarter out of someone's ear.

"How does faith come about naturally? ... It wouldn't be human if it came without reason."

Another experience of today: As a time-filler, one very devoted woman brought a quiz book of "Catholic questions" to spring on the kids. I heard her use four of them. For two of these, she herself did not know the right answer and had to double-check the child's response. In discussion of a third, she led all of the kids in mispronouncing a liturgical object. A fourth gave three multiple choice options to the question "What does the phrase 'thy kingdom come' mean?"

I greatly admire this woman's resourcefulness in trying to interact with the kids while their leaders went through the attendance task. But I just hate this methodology for presenting any body of knowledge, especially when it might be confused with "faith formation." Particularly when one tries to summarize "the meaning" of some Scriptural reality in ten words or less.

I distinctly remember a sense of depression when I was 14 years old and a recently confirmed Lutheran. I knew everything. There was nothing more of God for me to learn -- or at least that was the message I got. We had an intense exposure to Lutheran doctrine in confirmation class, and even did public examination where we stood before the congregation during the service and the pastor quizzed us for a half hour! But then, it was over. My whole sense of religious learning -- including Scripture memorization -- became a big deception to me. It was all within my power. None of it was fueled from an encounter with Christ, or at least it was not explained, made reasonable to me, that way.

Come to think of it, this takes me back to my first point. I've really needed to give up spiritual formation as my own project, and simply accept that I am soil, and God's seed is planted in me, and grows with my Father himself as the Gardener. My attention needs to be on keeping that soil free from rocks and brambles. Many years ago in meditating on the parable of the sower, I came up with this phrase or course of action: think, wait, and meditate. That's my job. I could translate that phrase thusly: be rationally open to the world around me (think -- don't be hard of heart). Accept my limitations and endure suffering (wait -- don't be shallow). Abide in the presence of Jesus daily (meditate -- the 100 fold, now.)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Why Does Vacation Bible School Always Happen in the Mornings?

We are in the midst of Vacation Bible School. For the second year I am in charge of the music portion. For the most part, I do actually enjoy it, even though the general atmosphere is more chaotic than fits my tastes. But there are always a few kids in every group who love to sing and who just seem to live for the music time. To be honest, the whole time does not feel the least bit prayerful to me, but it is fun to share the gift of music.

We are using the "Parachuting With the Angels" VBS package, and I have the say the music is pretty bad, for the most part. I mercilessly axed several of the songs, like "I've Got a Crush on Jesus" which states "Jesus came from outer space to fill us with his grace." The songs that I've kept are decent, but not very exciting. The biggest hit among my substitutes seems to be Salelaka Mokonzi, which you can listen to on Suzanne's blog if you scroll way to the bottom and click the video, or if you fool around with her Deezer plug-in until the recorded version comes up. I modified the song a bit, and the kids are doing wonderfully. And for some reason I'm finding it scads easier to teach it to these 6-11 year olds than the group of teens to whom I tried to teach it last fall.

I get so worn out with a morning-intense schedule, though, and so do my children. I am very grateful that we don't do the hauling off to school routine regularly. Tranquility is such a high value to me, and morning scuttling and hungry tummies used to a leisurely breakfast, et al costs us so much in the tranquility department for the rest of the day. I'm sure this is why my dear hubby, who cannot but wake early, has a hard time with weekends at home. It is seriously strange to have one's normal rhythm completely thrown.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Again, Poverty

Let me take a running leap towards a far more succinct post on poverty.

In my pre-Catholic days, I never understood a "vow of poverty" as something good. Chastity and obedience I could sort of understand (although now I see I didn't, really). But poverty just seemed synonymous with misery. Taking a vow of misery seemed to fit only with a sadistic view of the relationship between God and self. (Truth told, I had a pretty strong vow of misery happening at the time!)

Now I'm seeing that poverty (along with sisters chastity and obedience) are simply means of being more and more available to God. Loving these things means strongly desiring God. And strongly dealing with our human stuff. By grace, drawn by the Beauty of Christ.

Welcome to the kingdom of God, where the first go last, those who lose their lives find them, where a child leads and where those in authority must not lord it over others.

The view is a little weird sometimes, but I like it here!


My friend Shauna at Fruitful Joy posted a powerful poem yesterday about waiting.

Desperately, helplessly, longingly I cried,
Quietly, patiently, lovingly He replied.
I pled and I wept for a clue to my fate,
And the Master said gently, "Child, you must wait:

Read the whole post here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

For the Love of Lady Poverty

Within the last few weeks I've been feeling a new attraction to, a new appreciation of, Lady Poverty. It could very well be linked to the psychological breaking point of having seen gas reach $4 a gallon. But there is something strangely joyful that I think I am discovering.

If I look objectively over my life, I have never been what one would call wealthy, although I have always felt rather well-off. There's an interesting story here. A few years back when my brother ran for his local Assembly seat, I read his campaign bio. He told the story of his origins -- our origins -- and it sounded to me a rather dismal, up-by-the-bootstraps type story of a poor, working family. Trying to figure out what he could possibly mean by it, I said to him, "I see you're trying to spin a certain image here." (He tends to fall off the left wing of the Democratic party.) He shook his head at me, equally incredulous, and said "No image..." I suddenly realized that while we grew up with roughly the same experiences, we had perceived and translated those experiences in vastly different ways.

Another memory: when I was 13 and was confirmed as a Lutheran I had the customary party where relatives gave me money. In 1981, $40 was quite a sum to me, and I spent it all on Beatles albums. To this day I feel twinges of regret for the frivolousness of this purchase, and never since have I purchased so many "goodies" for myself all at once.

But not even these things are what I'm driving at with what I feel burgeoning in my heart. Let me see if I can reach it.

When the price of gas spiked up, my family began walking more, and given our current gorgeous weather, I love it. Some years ago I started learning about edible wild plants, aka weeds, and so I just love to look at them all as we walk and wonder about what secrets they hold. My son and I have a chance to talk, as my daughter rides in a stroller and therefore has her connection with me differently during that time. I see tremendous value for my son as he sees me push the stroller up our hills here -- one hill being unpaved unless we can momentarily hoist the stroller onto the road -- on the way to and from Mass at Franciscan University. The first few walks we took as a family, he had some complaints. But watching the much harder time I have of it pushing his sister, he has actually begun to catch himself and to realize that perhaps he really doesn't have every justification in complaining. In these and other ways, the time we spend is far more precious that the time we'd save by driving.

On top of the price of gas and the price of food, we just had two huge car repair expenses that were mostly unexpected. So even though I don't typically buy lots of things for our family, I now have the realization that I pretty much shouldn't, for now. Last summer when my husband was laid off, I went through a season of buckling down and setting myself with fierce determination to "make do." The "do" I made turned out to be completely unnecessary, and my effort (aka stress) backfired on me. Now, thanks be to God, my husband's employment is secure, but like many others I look at the rising costs and realize life has to change for us. I had such a joyful moment at Mass the other day when I realized with a tremendous sense of balance that God truly gives us all we need. Now, I spent five years amidst folks who were affected by what John Michael Talbot calls the Great American Heresy of the prosperity gospel, which links financial prosperity with being saved and being blessed by God, and financial poverty with sin. What I saw at Mass is that God cares far too much for our real selves for that nonsense. He wants to give us the real good stuff -- Himself, His love, His grace, His wonder, His companionship, His secret embrace. Doesn't it run chills down your spine? Wouldn't you trade some fancy-schmancy object of yours for an embrace that says you are loved down to your very core, and beyond? If only there were some exchange counter set up for this! I think it would be packed.

But there is, isn't there. We meet Christ, and He bids us to leave all we have and follow him. The stuff. The worries. The plans, the stuff we think we can't live without, the stuff we think we won't be ourselves without. And I think He bids us just not to leave, but to pursue. We have basic needs, our brothers and sisters have basic needs, and we need to meet them. I believe it is our needs that God promises to care for. Ah, our needs. If we could but see our needs clearly! If we could truly see how much we need the core of our being touched and how some of the other stuff dulls and deadens our true sense of need.

Rich Mullins had a great song called Hard where he reminded us that when God promised to care for our needs, we was promising that we would "dress like flowers and eat like birds". Perhaps all this verbosity tonight boils down to catching a glimpse that one can eat like a bird with great, tremendous rejoicing when in the loving fellowship of God, the Maker of all, who is my Father.

Proverbs 17:1 -- Better a dry crust eaten in peace than a house filled with feasting -- and conflict.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Why I Am an Unschooler

Leonie invited the members of Unschooling Catholics to blog a bit on the question of why we are unschoolers for a wee little UC blog carnival.

So, I thought I would apply myself to the question.

I'm considering why I unschool today, right now. Three concepts come to mind: ease, relationship, utility.

By ease, what I really mean to say is that unschooling is the opposite of stressful. We are free to follow rhythms that come naturally to us and allow us to spend time together as a family. My son is free to move as his soul impels him. My children do not have to face hours of social pressures each day. We can be ourselves, and in fact we must, as there is no other paradigm for us to accommodate ourselves to. And yet, we have to get along, amidst our differing personal needs.

I appreciate those ease factors for myself, let it be known! But I also know that the work I have needed most to undertake in the last handful of unschooling years has been about relationship. I have had to really think through my parenting and challenge my thought-processes. When I am pressed, I must say that a solid relationship between myself and my children is far more valuable to me than any academic skill they might be able to master at this age (and I doubt I'll change my mind on that 10 years from now!). If I were to think that I could hand off my soon-to-be-7 year old to a teacher, who would then be responsible for forming him, I would be robbing him and myself of the treasure of deeply living our lives together. The way I can best do the job before me is to spend all our time together, with no intermediary for either party to dodge behind, whether school or homeschooling curriculum.

Utility: unschooling works. Children really are learning machines. This year so far it has been time for reading to click with my son. After about two weeks of demonstrating basic skills to him and putting a hand at his back to steady his course (while he read the dialogue at Dragon Fable), he is now reading impressively. And his passion for learning stays alive. He actually finds multiplication fun. He learns; I come by, sometimes to stoke the fire, sometimes to just observe, sometimes to get "shushed" away from his important work. My daughter on the other hand begs me to play school with her, even while, in so many words, she asks "Mama, why does this workbook ask me to do such silly things?" The learning we do isn't all academic by any means. How many 2-nearly-3- and 6-year-olds do you know during the presidential primary season (way back when Republicans still thought it was interesting) could sing Huckabee campaign songs? (Papa's tutelage there...)

Ok, so lest I just go to bragging about how intelligent my children are, let me add that I would not change my course if my son still had no interest in reading and my daughter was still speaking in two word phrases. The point is, children naturally take in the things they are exposed to according to their internal timetable, their need, and their drive.

So I guess there is one other point: I highly value being able to set one's focus on those things in life which are needful, those things which are needful because our need for them becomes evident to us, occurs to us organically. I want to have a grip on the order of my day because it helps me, and not because I feel guilty when comparing myself to my friend whose garbage is alphabetized. I want my children to embrace the things they do with wonder for as long as it can stay with them, and not come to believe that life is about learning how to appease those in authority, and needing somehow to toss their individuality on the rocks in the process. Ultimately I want my children to focus their lives on the One Thing needful.

For us, today, unschooling is the way.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

You Have Created Me!

Yesterday at Mass, during Communion, we sang this song:

Yahweh, You have created me
You have called me by name
and I am Yours
Forever, I will sing of Your goodness
I will walk now in freedom
to the kingdom of glory

The song struck me as we sang it, and it came back to me strongly while at adoration last night.

"You have created me." Such power exudes from those words. At one time these would have been abstract words about the fusion of a soul into an embryo, namely, myself. But Fr. Giussani's words have sunk into my soul to make this a living statement, an impassioned declaration. You have created me!

Here is my peace, here is the answer to daily worries (like the big car repair bill we paid today, and all those mounting expenses.) Here is my meaning. Here is my past and my future. Here is such security.

My experience tells me that when I "make" something, I care about it a lot. I have purposes for what I make, even thought they are usually hazy. I take great delight in what I make. And I'm just me, and what I make isn't human. So I know, I understand, that God absolutely has care for me smack in the center of His thoughts. It's His plan for me. And it's His plan through me to give His care to others. I cannot thwart His will, but what peace I win when I simply accept in peace His care for me, giving up my anxieties to Him.

The thought also occurred to me at Mass yesterday that often when we are pleading the hardest for a certain intention, the "clenched" state of the soul like that may actually cut us off from the answer God wishes to give. I think "clench" is really about our narrowing the exchange of love from our heart to God's (the flow most vital for us being the receiving aspect of course, making the giving possible). the image I have is of a child who is so upset she won't crawl into her mother's lap for comfort, won't even get close enough to be drawn up. We can get so attached to, so focused on, our issue that we lose sight of our need for the Lord's embrace -- and of the fact that this is where our need finds its answer -- and nowhere else.

This predicament became familiar to me when dealing with infertility. The advantage now is that at least I can objectively identify this kind of spiritual crisis. It still takes the act of prayerful embrace to deal with -- it's always the "dealing with" part that gives me an "oh yeah, duh!" moment. All the harder is it for me to try to say something helpful when I encounter someone else stuck in this predicament.

Maybe this is why godly men like Fr. Giussani come up with these odd phrases like "I am You who make me." Someone who really wants to know is going to say "what in the heck do you mean by that?" -- and then they are off as a seeker, as a beggar: truly human.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

What color is the grass on YOUR side of the spiritual fence?

On the first of every month, Our Lord gives Anne a new message about His call to service.

June 1, 2008


I am here, with you at all times. I watch you struggle for holiness and I encourage you to continue along on the path you have chosen. When you are discouraged, you sometimes look to other paths, chosen by other people. From where you are looking, their path might look smooth and easy, happy and fulfilling. Perhaps their path does not include the sacrifices that you find are necessary to travel along the path I have marked out for you. Perhaps their path does not appear to be as steep, as filled with obstacles, and perhaps their path appears to include more worldly acclaim and acceptance. Poor little apostles. Here is what you cannot see when you admire the apparent easiness of the paths of others who are not chosen as you are chosen. You do not see that others, who have not made the same level of commitment, are not enjoying the same level of unity with heaven. Yes, their struggle seems less. Yes, their rewards seem immediate and plentiful. But you have something that nobody else has in the same way and that is Me. Nobody has the same relationship with Me that you have. You are My beloved apostle and I love all of My apostles. But the love I have for you and the plan I have for you is unique. It will never be repeated. I need you to continue on in your service to Me. I need you to remember that you are called to live differently, that your life, which may not be proceeding exactly as you planned, is proceeding exactly as I planned. Can you accept this? Can you remind yourself that you have allowed your Saviour to navigate your earthly journey? Can you rejoice in the path that I have marked out for you, even if it includes suffering? Please, My beloved apostle, try. I will help you with this. Rejoice in your apostolic commitment to Me. I will send you graces in each moment. These graces are unrepeatable, meaning that if a person rejects My grace in this moment, that grace moment cannot be recaptured. Time passes while you are on earth. Opportunities also pass. You are taking advantage of your time on earth for the family of God and for your loved ones and for you, yourself. You are so precious to Me. I am caring for you, I promise. When you are tempted to discouragement, remember that I am with you in each moment, sending perfect graces and blessings to you and through you. Be at peace in My will for you and I will protect My plan for you. You are loved by all of heaven and you
are loved by Me.