Monday, June 22, 2009

Patience, Fortitude and Perseverance

Way back long ago and far away, when I was a member of Risen Savior Fellowship, my pastor's wife was a significant figure in my life. She was a very serious and intense woman, and we regarded her as a prophetess and someone with the ability to "hear from God" and pray for people accordingly.

Though I fully accept the gift of prophecy and "hearing from God" I'm not quite sure how I would perceive her today if I were to time warp myself back 20 years. But I was thinking today of something she once told me after praying for me. She said that the Lord told her of three things I needed to pray for: patience, fortitude, and perseverance.

How can you really go wrong, praying for any virtue?

But here I am, twenty years later, thinking about those virtues and the prayers she and I offered for them at the time and later. I have to tell you that I was hoping for a more exciting word from God at the time. What 20-year-old wants to pray for patience? Or imagine what sort of future lies ahead for which one needs these strenuous-sounding virtues?

Just the other day I happened to look up a definition of fortitude, and found this:

The virtue of fortitude, or courage, is firmness of spirit, steadiness of will in doing good despite obstacles in the performance of our daily duty. It suppresses inordinate fear and curbs recklessness. Because fortitude also moderates rashness, it is the special virtue of pioneers in any field.

Fortitude is the obverse of temperance. Where temperance limits inordinate desire for major pleasures such as food and drink or the marital act, fortitude limits inordinate rashness and fear in the face of major pain that threatens to unbalance human nature.

I was struck especially by two things: the notion that fortitude is specially linked to pioneering, and that it is the obverse of temperance. I don't know what I am pioneering, but that word resonates with me quite a bit. And I also see that while culturally, temperance seems to be the virtue everyone feels the need for, I almost feel like I need to drain off excess "temperance," which is really another way of saying I have a huge, ongoing need for fortitude in simple daily things.

Immediately after the Tea Party in April, my family had dinner with our speaker Jim Babka and his family. It doesn't happen all that often that I am thrown into this kind of social setting where I am to strike up a conversation with someone I have never met and barely know, but with whom I have some common experience. So it was interesting as I found myself talking about my life with him. In this unusual setting I noticed a trend developing. We were talking about the fact that I threw together this Tea Party in three weeks pretty much on my own, and that I had encountered a few scary glitches along the way. Then we discussed the fact that we chose unschooling as an educational method. Jim seemed familiar with this approach as well, and noted that a lot of people get scared off by it. We talked about the fact that I moved to Japan by myself and lived for 2.5 years in the midst of a completely difficult foreign culture with very limited language skills. At one point Jim commented that it seemed I liked to do scary things. I nodded and said "Yeah, it sure seems that way, doesn't it?"

I could add a few things to the list as well that others might find scary, like uprooting from two different religious systems and eventually joining the Church I thought I had hated, giving birth at home, and others. Heck, people even tell me they'd be scared stiff to cantor at Mass.

When I look at my life objectively, I see how patience, fortitude and perseverance have played out in my life thus far. My life is so different from when I was 20 that I can't even count the ways. The funny thing is that I still see myself as one who is in desperate need of courage, especially in small things. Dialing that stupid telephone, for example. Going down the street to arrange a playdate for my daughter. Joining a conversation where two people are already talking. These things, oddly, often require the sheer steeling of my will. I suppose if they didn't, well, I wouldn't be me, and I would be struggling with something else!

Color Help Needed

We are finally beginning the project of fixing up the outside of our house. (I'll spare you the entire history of this endeavor.) We are down to the point of choosing paint colors for the windows, eaves, front and back porch walls, ceiling, trim and floors.

Here's the trick: for now, the north side of the house has siding which is a sort of oatmeal tan color. The rest of the house is the burnt (but dirty) red color, and the trim is currently cream. We will need to choose a trim color and colors for the porch which will be painted before the rest of the siding will go on. The timing for finishing the siding will be measured in months, and hopefully not too far into the double digits.

Ideally, then, the color for the trim will need to contrast with the siding and coordinate well with the brick on the front porch, but also not look completely ugly when contrasting with the burnt red, which our neighbors to the south will have to endure for a little while longer.

And I have no sense of color, which is why I am posting these pictures and asking for ideas.

Without further ado:Here is the siding with current cream trim. (And yes, the contractor admits it was a mistake not to paint the trim first.)

This shows the north side of the house and the brick of the front porch. Note that the ceiling of the porch is the same cream color right now.

Here's the front porch. The green carpet is going to be ripped out.

Here is the in-process south side of the house where the wood is being repaired and the eaves are being primed.

What was suggested to me was to do the trim and eaves in a forest green, and to paint the front and back porch to match the siding. The green would contrast nicely with the siding and the brick, and not look too hideous with the burnt red. The color for the floors of the porches is still up for grabs, but obviously something that would hide dirt decently.

The house next to us (north side) is also getting a face lift, and it has a nice forest green on its upper portion.

I do think it looks nice with the brick.

So, I need some comments and feedback. I just have no visual sense whatsoever. I had wanted the whole house to be a deep blue, but that was before we realized that siding was how we needed to go (lest the house crumble to bits in a few years).

Do it anyway

You have perhaps read this quote from Bl. Theresa of Calcutta before. It was recently posted on Unschooling Catholics, and I've been thinking about its truthful conclusion quite a bit these last few days:

People are often unreliable, irrational and self-centered; forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some false friends and true enemies; succeed anyway. If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; be honest and frank anyway. What you spend your years building, someone may destroy overnight; build it anyway. The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; do good anyway. Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough; give the world the best you've got anyway. You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway. -- Mother Teresa

When I think about living my life and making my choices with an eye to the fact that what I choose and what I do and who I am are ultimately between myself and God, it helps me tremendously by freeing me from a lot of second-guessing.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Harrison County Tea Party, July 2

I've been asked to speak at the July 2 Tea Party to be held in Cadiz, Ohio. Jim Babka of Downsize DC is also going to speak, which is kind of exciting. He was my main speaker for the Steubenville Tax Day Tea Party in April.

What I suggested for the theme of my talk is the paradigm shift that is necessary so that we do not see ourselves as controlled and determined by our government, but as free people, able to be the protagonists of change rooted in our lived realities.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

In Which She Admits That Which Brings Freedom

Fair forewarning: parts of this post might not make much sense to people who aren't in CL. But I hope it entices you to want to know more about it!

Last night at adoration I took along Is It Possible to Live This Way? Vol. 1: Faith. I was wanting to re-read the section where he talks about freedom, destiny and attraction (pp. 60-78). Then I went back further to re-read the section "The Beginning of a New Fact in the World" (pp. 25-41). Then, just for frosting, I re-read the quick summary Giussani gives of that section on pp. 57-60.

Several things became very clear to me.

First of all, I realize that I grasped very little of what this means when we read it in School of Community back a year or two ago. That's pretty evident from the notes I wrote and from the memory of what I associated these pages with.

Second of all, my desire became clear. I had the advantage of being alone in the adoration chapel, so I prayed out loud and banged my book on my lap for extra effect saying "I want this freedom! I need this freedom! I have got to have this freedom!" Maybe I should point out the type of passage I was reading at the time. Something like this one on page 39:

e) Responsibility before the fact
The last point: The response. What is the supreme characteristic of any truly human act, above all when the human act is in front of its destiny? Remember Peguy: God never obliges anybody. Freedom!
Ok, back to things that became clear in a minute. Let me talk for a minute about some of my experiences from the past to make sense of this freedom thing.

When I was 16 I went to Germany with my German class. The first week we toured and the second week we stayed with families. When I arrived with my family I was my usual uptight self, only perhaps a bit worse. For the first night and day, when my host family asked if I were hungry, I always said no simply because I was worried about putting them out. In truth I was starving, but saying no to my own desires out of worry of how I would be received by others was my standard operating procedure.

Something similar happened to me only a couple of years ago. I was traveling with a friend, and I started out the morning feeling thirsty. The meals I had that day hadn't featured any beverages that I could easily drink, nor had I pursued any other, so by mid-afternoon I was really quite thirsty. I spent about six hours being deeply, painfully aware of this fact even though I knew that my friend had water in the vehicle that would be mine for the asking. Finally, after nearly 12 hours of being quite thirsty, I risked opening my mouth and asking her for a bottle of water, which was immediately offered, and that was that.

I tell these embarrassing stories on myself because... um... why am I doing this again?! Penance, maybe? I'll get to the explanation of it here eventually.

Back to what I read. The section called The Beginning of a New Fact in the World essentially lays out the five steps of faith as Fr. Giussani teaches them: an encounter (Peter and John have Jesus pointed out to them by John the Baptist), an exceptional presence (people say of Jesus "I've never heard anyone speak like this man!"), wonder (the disciples listen to Jesus in amazement and want to stay with Him), they ask themselves "Who is this man?" (they realize that there is something divine at work -- the beginning of the recognition of God) and then the section I quoted above, responsibility before the fact (the disciples say "to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of everlasting life!")

This is how Giussani teaches us to understand what it means to follow Jesus, to have faith in Jesus, to be a Christian. This also just happens to outline so perfectly what I have experienced in my adventure with my church choir that I keep writing about. It is because of this experience that I now realize I didn't understand any of this before. In other words, I finally understand the basic premise of CL because God has given me this crystal clear experience through which to verify what Fr. Giussani taught, at least in this one regard. It is not that I was not a Christian before, but for some reason God has brought me to this community of CL and has given me this way of understanding and sharing in the charism.

Yeah, right: "for some reason." Can anyone say "redemption"? Fr. Carron, the current leader of CL since the death of Fr. Giussani, likes to speak of our learning to have tenderness toward our humanity. We read an article on this when I first started with CL, and it really made a huge impact on me. It should be no wonder that someone who starved herself to keep from bothering others and hesitates to ask a friend for a simple drink of water needs a bit of remediation on tenderness towards her humanity! In CL we talk a lot about our human need and our desires as the place where God starts all of His movement toward us. He made us for union with Himself, but the place where we start toward that union is recognizing our desire, recognizing what corresponds to the needs of our hearts. Happiness is momentary, fleeting. But correspondence recognizes that the heart is made for that which is infinite, and can only be satisfied by the Infinite.

I realize that there is something I need even more than food or drink so that I can be fully human, following Christ. I need companions. And not just warm bodies, the way my cat likes to find someone who is laying down to cuddle up against. It is part of being human, but more than that -- it is essential to being Christian that we be in community. It is essential that our relationships share and breathe the fragrance of Christ. This is another aspect of CL that I think it is fair to say I just about railed against a while back. I became a Catholic largely under the influence of books, or so I thought. I like being an intellectual, and I admit I have tended to have a lot more intimacy with ideas than with people. People smell bad, they're scary, and they can hurt you. You can stick a book on a shelf when you've finished with it, and pull it out whenever you need it. Very safe.

Jesus, in his wonderful sense of humor, led me on a quest to answer my friend's challenge by leading me to a group of people where fake plastic Pharisaism is out, and the human following of Christ is in. I remember thinking to myself after the first rehearsal I attended that it reminded me a bit of a bunch of kids having pillow fight. (The woman I spoke with Sunday from the Presbyterian choir used the phrase "unruly Kindergarten." Something about Joe has this effect on people, I think!) And something in me noticed there were no bookshelves to defend me from these, these... humans. (CL at least has books!)

So as I read Fr. Giussani, thought about my need for companions in whom I see the amazing face of Christ, and thought about those blisters on my heart, and as I received the answer to my book-slapping prayer, I realized simply that my freedom comes in admitting I love these people, my choir friends. Allowing for that fact should be no harder than asking for a drink of water when you are thirsty, or for food when you are hungry -- unless you are me, of course.

I caught myself for a moment today thinking "There, that's all finished and sorted out." Hah! As if there is anything in our path of following Jesus that is ever "all finished" on this side of eternity. We are always only just beginning.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Freedom, Percentiles, Wildflowers and how?

Some wildflowers my daughter and I picked today at the choir picnic.

Way back 500,000 years ago (that is, in February) I wrote a post about my experience of joining my parish choir (here she goes again) in which I stated that whatever it was that God was doing in me through this following Jesus thing that involved joining the choir was sprouted about 10% worth. And, quoting myself (how lame is that), I then said "stay tuned for the other 90%".

Since that time I have been meditating on the many facets of this experience to such a degree that I myself am a bit shocked with it. To a large extent all I have been able to do is, as we say in CL, stand in silence before the Mystery. But doing so lately has reminded me of Rich Mullins' song where he sings "It's so hot inside my soul, I swear there must be blisters on my heart." I need to struggle through putting this thing into words. "His word is in my heart like a burning fire, shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in, indeed, I cannot" (Jer. 20:9).

Yet I sense I am still very much in-the-midst-of, so no final words just yet.

Our director, Joe, leads not only my parish choir but a Presbyterian church choir as well, and today we all got together for a picnic at that church. Before we ate, each choir sang a couple of songs. As our choir arranged ourselves to sing, one of our dear members (who shall remain anonymous) made a lengthy public comment... I'm not sure exactly what the point of it was, but it was hilarious and very much in fitting personal style. I laughed until I was nearly in tears, and we went on to do our thing. Business as usual.

Much later, on the way home, I made a comment to my husband about this exchange. He was adamant and serious that said person had made a complete fool of said person's self. In the moment I just assured hubby, oh no, this is normal. But as I thought about it as the afternoon went on, I realized that the joy of this is much deeper for me. This hilarious comment was embraced by everyone because our choir is a place of freedom for people to be themselves.

Now I don't know about you, but I keep coming back to this reality and being completely and utterly amazed. How many parish functions or church groups or religious meetings have you been a part of where you felt like you needed a certain face, a certain stance, the acceptable way of talking, the acceptable plastic persona, the appropriate degree of religious fervor, the right way of being pious (etc.) before you feel acceptable to the others around you. It's an act! And no one wants to let on that they are "less" in the expected category. C'mon, am I the only one who has ever experienced this dynamic in the circles of Christendom? And what kind of real, living service ever comes out of groups where everyone is just posturing in front of each other? Nothing. Because no one is looking at Christ.

This kind of liberty comes only from Jesus. I keep realizing anew -- and being surprised each time -- that when I answered this quest to find where Jesus is present right in my own life, that is exactly what I found: Jesus present! This absolutely, positively changes everything! No wonder I can't stop thinking about it.

And on the theme of the richness of the liturgy, again. Today as our pastor began his homily on the Holy Trinity by saying that theologically, this is the central mystery of the Christian faith, it hit me like a ton of bricks: Relationship. God in his essence is not a solitude but a family, as John Paul II said. God IS relationship, and we are made in His image. I have focused so heavily, with Fr. Giussani and just with my life, on the mystery of the Incarnation that this reality of Trinitarian relationship just snuck up on me and said "boo!" today. But, of course! God used the Incarnation to come to us because of Who God is as Trinity: relationship. Instead of dry, flat theological ponderings these things are like the most vibrant and challenging realities imaginable to me right now.

Like I said, meeting Jesus in this way changes everything. How it happens, how it works, well this is what gives me blisters. The how of following Jesus in this way can only be discovered by doing it. Risking verification. Risking figuring out how to relate to my fellow sojourners. I mean, I have a certain repertoire when it comes to relating to others. But I need to take into account all this new information, like the fact that in Christ I have freedom to be who I am without apology, and that others have the same freedom, and that the relationships we have with each other in the body of Christ really do touch into realms of God's own authority and the obedience we owe Him, because we belong to Him and to each other... I've got to take in all this new information, make it mine, and then act with it to verify that indeed this is God's way, and it gets proven in my experience. Like Elijah putting the sacrifice on the altar and God sending the fire to burn it all up.

Please say a prayer for me that I get the fullness of what God is doing with me, in His time. There are several real-life tendrils growing from this experience and each one feels like one of the coals the seraph went after Isaiah with.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Be alert. Where is your focus?

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

June 1, 2009


Dear apostles, I ask that you remind yourselves each day that I am participating through you in the course of history. What comes from Me can only be good. When you see goodness and kindness, you must thank Me. When you see mercy and compassion, you must thank Me. These occurrences originate in heaven and are brought to earth through the participation of those who cooperate with grace. Always, there are those who claim to participate in grace, but who do not. There are also those who claim to reject Me and yet they participate in grace by allowing goodness to flow through them. How confusing this can be for My children. Dear children, ultimately, this will be clear, in that each man must answer yes or no in each moment. Be alert to the choices in your day. Be alert to the example you set for others in your decisions for good or evil. Be alert to the peace that I bring to you when you decide for what is good. My apostles, you crave Me, I know. You crave My return into your world through a wide acceptance of the Spirit of peace. How can you satisfy this craving? I will tell you. In order to relieve the pangs of your hunger for goodness, you must bring goodness to others. Speak of goodness. Celebrate goodness. Rejoice in goodness and then try your best to participate in goodness through your cooperation with My renewal. In this way you will know that you are never helpless against evil. You will understand that I have healing power, yes, and I can flow My healing power through each person who accepts their responsibility for bringing Me to others. I am so pleased with My beloved apostles because you have accepted your tasks. How gratefully I listen when you pledge your allegiance each day. How I count on you. Spend a moment considering what I have managed to do through your cooperation. Have you shown kindness? Have you tried to become holier? Have you spread my message of compassion? You are only one. Now consider how many I have called into service at this time. Consider all of those I am calling into service through your service. Consider the healing graces that flow through My mercy. My friends, all is well. The renewal continues.