Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Random Political Thoughts: History

In the last year or so I have come to be known among my local friends and acquaintances as interested in and active in politics. Of course this stems largely from my organizing the Tax Day Tea Party in my town, an endeavor that almost seems surreal to me as I look back on it.

And now recently I've been in a couple of internet conversations where the Catholicity of my political views has been more or less called into question. But I think this primarily has stemmed from the fact that I've not really stated my views, but rather I've been reflecting on my views while commenting on the ideas and actions of others.

So I've entitled this post "Random Political Thoughts" because I want to try to formulate where my mind is right now, and it seems that the only way I can really do this is to think out loud at you.

History: I come from a family that is more or less Democrat, and because my mother has been an election judge since I was very small, I imbibed a strong sense of the importance of voting from that time. My brother has also had political jobs and has run for state office. For that matter, one of my jobs fresh out of college was a four-year stint at a state Right to Life office. While before having that job I held the view that I voted for whomever was pro-life, there wasn't really much that I understood about the mechanics of politics and bills and elections and all that. I learned a lot during those years about legislation, politics, pro-life issues, media, and about the passions that fuel political endeavors.

When I met my husband I realized he was really into politics. He didn't like football, but he did get very excited once an election cycle came around. I learned to cringe and wait until it was over. I was still pretty much of the mind that I voted for whomever was pro-life, and if I had the choice, whomever between pro-lifers was strongest on conservative issues like banning pornography, being for prayer in schools, and whoever was "most Christian." I wasn't interested in economic issues nor did I have any understanding of them, and I simply trusted that those who were pro-life were also going to have all the right ideas about the rest of it, whatever that blather was that didn't matter as much anyway.

September 11, 2001 came around, and with the rest of the world I was shocked. I had liked what George Bush said during the debates about staying out of the business of the rest of the world, but then again I did feel very safe when I listened to his speeches in the days following 9/11. I figured he was trustworthy because he was pro-life, and he invoked God, and I felt better trusting him. When he said it was patriotic for us to go out and spend money, we went out and spent money.

When the invasion of Iraq was brewing, I felt really uneasy. I didn't like this idea, and I knew the Pope didn't like this idea either. I told my husband I was willing to trust Bush on this, and I hoped he wasn't making a mistake. I also had trusted that the Patriot Act was necessary to keep us safe, and that those who were complaining about our liberties being curtailed weren't being responsible. I bought the line that we needed to give up freedom to get security, that it was all about the common good.

The Bush/Kerry election was a cake-walk to me: pro-lifer vs. pro-abortion Catholic. No-brainer.

In 2007 a yard sign caught my eye, and I began reading things about Ron Paul. He had my attention with his stand in favor of increased role for natural, or non-allopathic health care and for a sharp curtailment in federal involvement in education (Bush's No Child Left Behind had been a complete boo-hiss in my book from the first time I heard his discuss it in the 2000 debates.) Paul's pro-life commitment was sterling and articulated differently from other candidates. I didn't quite know what to make of his thing about ending the "war on drugs", but as I read I saw what he was saying as at least tenable. And the more I read in general, the more I felt like I was hearing from a person I could actually support.

When I first told my husband that I'd found someone I could support, he said derisively "oh that nut job?" I think my husband's primary cause for dismissal of Ron Paul is that he was against the war in Iraq. And being against the war in Iraq was not something conservatives did.

Ok, so that's where I've come from.

And I can see that I will need to continue in another post on another day, so, please stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Servant Song

Last weekend our choir director told me about this lovely song he'd just heard when he was away. He thought it would be great for me to play the guitar part as he played the piano and the choir led the congregation. And then he tells me the title: The Servant Song.

Oh, man!

This is a song I have known and loved since I was roughly 12 or 13. Once upon a time it had a different meaning to me, a sort of a wishing for real people to whom I could address the song. And now... well, all I can say is that it is a very providential choice, out of all the Christian songs in the history of mankind done with guitar, for him to propose this way.

Here is the author of the song singing it. (Unfortunately, embedding is disabled.) The gendered words have changed a bit: I learned it just as "Brother, let me be your servant," but the version in our hymnals is different yet again. Scroll down on the youtube site to read the lyrics.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Unusual Graces

Since my post about comfort zones, I've been thinking again of my early days as a Catholic. God gave me many, many unusual graces in those days, because He knew what my special needs package had to contain, and I guess because He saw my rather extensive limitations. Like not having a single friend with whom I shared my faith with within 75 miles. Then I had but two, and one more an ocean away. And with all my social limitations, I'd just left behind, or been left behind by, nearly all of my non-Catholic friends.

I was thinking about one of those unusual graces today, and it made me laugh in a sort of comfortable way, so comfortable that I'll even risk sharing it. Sometimes Jesus would sing to me as I prayed. I recorded all these events, like transcribing little love notes, but this one I'd remember even if I hadn't written it down. After I received communion one weekday, I heard the Lord sing to me the refrain of this song. I'm not kidding. And I think it is always true, truer today than ever!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Philosophy of Liberty

I've watched this video several times recently. It fascinates me on many levels. In the political realm, it sums up my inclinations quite well. But it equally well sums up my parenting inclinations and my educational inclinations. It always seems to me that having a concisely articulated summary of key points allows me to focus and live truth in a way that frees me from getting clogged up by conflicting emotions and rationalizations.

However, while this video addresses justice in human interrelations, it does not make anything explicit about where our lives come from. And for some, I suppose, this question may not loom hugely obvious in the mind: Did I make myself? My answer to this is an obvious No, of course I did not make myself. The life I have as mine is a gift, just as the life each other person has is a gift. So, this video can say that the first principle of Liberty is that I own my life, and it is true. However, it is also true that my life is a gift, given by my Creator. To me, the lack of this connection being made explicit is not a difficulty. In fact, to me, it makes the fact more plain because it actually causes me to think of the question.

So, this is a very useful tool for me to meditate on how to live in justice, and in charity, (for can you separate them?) with other people. And that's just something I need to spend a lot of time meditating on these days.

Monday, September 21, 2009

In Which I Laugh at the Concept of Having a Comfort Zone

At School of Community on Saturday, we got talking about living in comfort zones. A woman who is new to our gathering asked me if I still experienced today what I had recounted as a past tendency, namely of living in a tiny pin-prick of a comfort zone. "Oh no," I replied. "If anything, this year it has been God's work to completely demolish any comfort zones I've had. I'm never comfortable anymore!"

I've been thinking these last few days just how true my off-hand comment was. I feel like I have been living in the midst of a personal seismic shift this year, and anytime I think it has settled it seems to start up again. Oh, I have comfort all right. It exists in the objective, external order of my life. Husband, family, home, community -- all blessedly stable. We have good health, my husband is employed, and life is good. Perhaps it is precisely because of these things that other aspects of my life have been free to turn over in upheaval.

When I think of the term comfort zone I think of the story of the first meeting of RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) I attended as a catechist in my parish. This would have been in September of 2000. I dearly wanted to be involved in this process, designed for adult converts to the Catholic faith, and in fact it was the reason why we moved to a new parish one year after our marriage. But I sat on our couch, cuddled up in a ball next to my hubby, petrified. I was so nervous about finding the right door to enter (the meetings were held in the pastor's basement, which was like a mini parish hall). I was nervous about meeting all these new people. There I sat with him, probably in tears or close to it. It was all for good reason, too, because I was a lousy catechist that year, if I do say so myself. I was so out of touch with people's needs.

I also think of the first couple School of Community meetings I attended, back in 2006. A couple times I mustered up my courage to actually say something, and once someone sort of talked right over what I said (someone I didn't know then, or now, just to clarify). I felt so flattened that I couldn't bring myself to attend for several months. It was just too hard to try to open myself up at that level to risk my herculean effort going unheard.

And now, there's now.

Something amazing has happened to me. I think it is called Jesus Christ. Oh, I've believed in Jesus and followed Jesus since childhood, truly. But I have come into a completely different experience of His Church, though I've been here a good long time, too. I remember vividly a comment John Michael Talbot made on the pilgrimage I took back in 1993, right after entering the Church. We were at the church of the tomb of Lazarus, where I experienced an incredibly profound grace during Mass. I sobbed so hard I could not contain myself, nor hardly walk. (That's not to say that hard sobbing marks how profound one's experience is, but for me the sobbing was a mark of my heart being penetrated by Something not under my control.) The whole group knew my story of recent conversion. John Michael commented that sometimes an individual enters the Church, but it takes time for the Church to enter the individual. How correct he was. At that moment, I knew that I was going to discover in the Catholic Church that which, until that moment, I had somewhat despaired of finding: true, living Christianity. Truth is one thing. But how does one find the truth being lived?

It doesn't take finding a crowd of already perfect people. Tried finding those. No dice. It takes finding people with hungry hearts, who are willing to live that way, with hunger. People who take the desires of their human heart, longing for God, seriously, and who take the desires of others seriously. It takes knowing that being human means being made for God and being satisfied with nothing but Him.

Communion and Liberation has taught me to see this way. To see everything and everyone this way. And somewhere along the line I have changed. My heart has been thrown open to relationships with people in ways I could not have planned or even wanted a couple of years ago. My vision of reality has taken a huge shift: Reality is God's love! It is Him, His presence here with me. And I know it is reality I must live in and share with others. No more silly dream worlds or Utopian religious ideals. Love is an incredible force which shapes us to be like It by making us more ourselves. The more I become who God made me to be, the more others see not me, but Him.

I don't know if comfort will ever return, or if this is like feeling coming back into an arm that had gone numb, and I've been confusing comfort with numbness all these years. Yeah, I'm guessing that's it. Even if this has been a wild ride, I'm loving every minute of it.

Action and Drama

Sometimes conversations with my son make me stop in my tracks with a moment of wonder. Today something like this happened.

It was a typical unschooling morning; as I cleaned the house and my daughter played a game, my son watched a Star Trek movie. I noticed he turned it off a few times to play outside or otherwise wander away, only to return later to watch some more. When it finished, he came to share his evaluation of it.

First, he asked me if I'd liked Star Trek as a child. Not so much, I told him. He informed me that the ending was really exciting, because that's where all the action was, but in the build up there was a lot of drama. I gathered that, because I know him to be a total "action man," that the drama was not so interesting to him. But I told him "the drama is what gives meaning to the action."

Ok wait, back up. This was a typical unschooling morning, and my daughter played a game and my son watched a Star Trek movie, and as I cleaned the house I was praying with just a bit of tension in my heart: "Lord, you've given me these children to raise. Show me, please, what they really need. I need to you reach into my son's heart and awaken him to his purpose." It is not always easy to unschool, because it involves a heck of a lot of trust in one's children as auto-didacts and in our life as a teacher. Parents don't often spend a lot of time worrying that a typical school day is wasting a child's life (though perhaps they should), but at the very least, I'd like some help cleaning from my movie-watching son, you know?

So, I heard these words come out of my mouth, and I saw them go into my son's heart. Later he talked again about "the drama" of something else. And in the meantime I had a realization that put me into wonder. Something very valuable had just transpired.

Being eight is a time when an action man starts to realize there is more to life than doing; there is also the answer to the question "why". There is this quest for meaning. Why bother to do what I am doing? What import does this have? How can I live without getting bored? What is my purpose? This is the drama of life.

We can go through life doing, ignoring our purpose in our activities. This isn't good. We can go through life with grandiose drama, without engaging reality around us. This also isn't good. Or we can live all of our actions, all of our doings, aware that they point to a great purpose, our ultimate destiny, oneness with Christ.

And Star Trek can help us both to understand this connection.

And mothers can have peace and wonder while sorting laundry.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Psalm 116

I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.

I love the Lord because he has heard
My voice in supplication
Because he has inclined his ear to me
The day I called

I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.

The cords of death encompassed me;
The snares of the netherworld seized upon me;
I fell into distress and sorrow,
And I called upon the name of the Lord, "O LORD, save my life!"

I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.

Gracious is the Lord and just;
Yes, our God is merciful.
The LORD keeps the little ones;
I was brought low, and he saved me.

I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.

For he has freed my soul from death,
My eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.
I shall walk before the Lord
in the land of the living.

I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.

Friday, September 04, 2009

The Anatomy of Longing

This week I've had a couple of comments land in my heart and provoke quite a stewing. Yes, I know, it doesn't take much to provoke quite a stewing for me, and I do enjoy it so. I'm hoping that in blogging this I will be able to sort of clear up some brain space for other life activities.

The first was a simple observation made by my pal Joe, our choir director, as we listened to three different versions of Palestrina's Sicut Cervus, which we spent no little effort to learn in the Spring. He quoted the Psalm on which the piece is based, "As the deer longs for running streams, so my soul thirsts for You..." and commented on how this lends to a "nice, peaceful feel" to the notes flowing over each other. Immediately inside my head it was as if I heard a needle being yanked off a record. It took me, of course, quite some time to put that immediate sense into words, which is why I've been stewing instead of already having lectured him on this. This much I will grant: the idea of running streams is a nice, peaceful image. But the idea of longing, of thirsting is about as far from peaceful as I can imagine.

Have you ever been thirsty? Like to the point of the thirst hurting you? You say to yourself, and I dare say a deer would say the same, could she form the words, "If I do not find water, I am GOING TO DIE!" I'll faint, the wolves will attack me, I'll be ripped to shreds, I'll die. Finding water becomes a passionate, all-consuming, life-or-death quest. And this is the image to which the Psalmist compares the soul's thirst for God. If I do not find the face of my God, I AM GOING TO DIE! I will become bitter or despondent or arrogant or attach myself to some other sin as a crutch doomed to fail me, and I will die.

The Sicut Cervus is not a violently passionate piece, by any means. And in my humble and uneducated view of this music, I believe this is because Palestrina wrote with faith. This piece is the end of his collection of Lamentations for Holy Saturday, meant to just precede the Easter Vigil. The second part of the motet ends with the words "My tears have been my food day and night as all day long I am taunted 'Where is your God?'" Palestrina knows where his God is. Hence, he is not longing with the desperation of one whose hope has been destroyed. He is longing for the One he knows is present, but not fully. To me, this is the achiest kind of longing. It's the glass of water that is being poured right in front of you, you want it so badly, but it isn't yet in you, recharging your cells. You see God, miraculously He comes to you in His Word, in His Sacraments, but you aren't yet in heaven. The passion of the longing reflects the Beauty of what the longing one desires. I think this is what softens the tone of the piece. I think this is why I have become so incredibly fond of this particular motet.

Then a few days later my friends Suzanne and Jeff brought me this lovely virtual church sign:

The quote states: "The foundation of poverty is on the certainty that God fulfills what He makes you desire." I'm guessing that this is from the latest School of Community reading on poverty. This takes my thoughts about longing in a different direction. I posted not too terribly long ago about a conversation with a then-newly-married that has stuck in my mind, regarding whether the delights which God places in our lives are really ours to "keep" or set our hearts on. One could consider it a very realistic thought process to say, No, if I have children whom I love or a spouse whom I love or friends whom I love or a pastor whom I love, etc., these people are not mine to keep. They could at any moment die, or by some awful turn of events we could become alienated, etc. etc. But this kind of realism for some of us is about as cuddly as a steel blade, and makes it almost impossible to bond with anyone, for constant fear of loss. This truth, that, first of all, God puts desires in our hearts, and secondly, He fulfills, is the answer of complete relief to this option of cuddling up with a steel blade of "reality". God is love: that is reality. God is my Father: that is my origin. God made me for Himself: that is my destiny. The desires He places in my heart come from His love, His Fatherhood, and His desire for my destiny. I can trust them, and moreover I should trust them.

Longing, then, becomes safe to the extent that my heart responds to a desire that comes from God. And it's a win-win, because to the extent that my heart's desire is tainted by my impurity, I present this heart constantly to Him and in the process my heart is purified. I've prayed for a pure heart so often from the perspective of being too embarrassed to have an impure heart! So stupid. Basically my prayer was "God, I want to always look good to myself and others, so please purify me." In response, God has at times taken my hand and walked me through things that made me feel quite besmudged! Hello!? It's not about you, remember? Purity don't always look like what you think it does, honey.

So longing is a passionate, but not hopelessly desperate or vain search for God's presence. I see now that this has been a constant striving of my soul, although in the past my search was much less informed by faith. At times I believed that what Palestrina writes of was completely impossible on earth and possible only in heaven. I did not grasp Christ's sacramental presence, nor the power of His Holy Spirit, nor the fellowship of the Body of Christ here on earth.

These are signs, they are like the water being poured, and even the water we drink, though we remain thirsty. We have what we long for, and we long for what we have to be made fuller. And I think if we have ceased to long we have ceased to live, whether we realize it or not.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Unity and Begging

A greater awareness of our unity as Christians stems from begging heaven for everything we need, rather than imagining our good comes from us.

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

September 1, 2009


Dear apostles, I remind you to ask heaven for the graces you require. In order to work in My plan, united to My will, you must be in the habit of asking for all that you need. This constant petitioning for help in your service creates in you an awareness of the unity within which you serve. In this way, you will begin to understand that nothing can be attributed to you except your willingness to serve. You will receive the graces you require, of course, and with these graces will come humility because you will acquire an understanding of the relationship between your requests and heaven’s answers. If heaven is supplying you with all that you need to complete the tasks heaven has assigned to you, then you cannot take credit for what is being accomplished. You may say that you are already doing this. I respond that I want you to increase both your dependence on heaven and your awareness of your dependence on heaven. Each day, every day, ask heaven for help throughout the day. My beloved apostles, I am preparing you for a new time which will bring you joy because you will serve peacefully in complete trust. Why would a child fret when his Father sees to his every need? Truly, you are united to heaven. I seek only to instill in you a greater awareness of your unity. I, your Jesus, call on you for dedication and sacrifice, it is true, but not without cause and not without benefit. See to My interests in your day, please. In turn, I will protect your intentions. Spread joy and goodness. Spread unity and peace. Spread trust in God who will never abandon His children.