Friday, August 13, 2010

Reconciling with Renunciation

Recently I re-read a short portion of John Michael Talbot's book The Joy of Music Ministry that struck me in a paradigm-shifting way. I suppose one could say what I read redeemed a paradigm I've lived with, or that it freed me to know that my understanding is limited, and that I can delight in knowing that there is more than one way for me to understand what God does in my life.

In a post last spring called The Human and the Holy I wrote about a classic example involved here: In my young 20s, I loved 60s music, especially the Monkees, but I was persuaded by preaching I heard that this music was worldly and that I should give it up. I did, rather dramatically. Later I became a Catholic, and I learned that being human and having human interests was the way God made me. It's that whole Incarnation idea, you know. It was a very deep aspect of my conversion that is still profound in my life.

But here's the thing. I have been hung up on how wrong it was for me to give up the music like I did. But here's what I read from John Michael Talbot:

Jesus attracted disciples... [He] called people to Himself and asked them to be initiated into discipleship. This initiation was through renunciation. Jesus called His first disciples to renounce all possessions, positions, and relationships in order to follow Him. This is radical, but also typical of all the religious and mystical masters. As Evagrios, the Christian monk and theologian said, we must, "renounce all to gain everything." Why is this so prominent?

I believe it all comes back to being able to hear and make God's music again with one's whole life. We have all fallen into patterns of orientation and behavior that are disordered. We have become part of the discord.... It's not that the things we use are always wrong. Sometimes we just use the right thing wrongly. This results in suffering and death. It results in discord and the death of God's harmony and peace....

Specifically, this means letting go of the senses and emotions of the body and the thoughts of the mind or soul, in order to break through to the spirit.... This is why the masters all demand complete renunciation at the beginning of conversion. Sometimes it is only for a time. Sometimes it is for life. But this renunciation of all enables us to be re-oriented towards a healthy use of our thoughts, emotions, and senses, with the spirit being unquestionably first in our life... even especially [in] the little things of mundane reality in our lives. When these little things become opportunities for the miracles of rebirth, then the big things can be approached without the danger of the old ego and self trying to sneak in. (p. 29-30)

This helped me to realize that the core of what I've struggled with is not the renunciation, but the dramatic and almost violent way in which I tend to approach renunciation. Perhaps I should use the word passionate rather than violent -- that word choice being an example of the very thing! I can appreciate how the music I loved took up God-shaped space in my heart and life. I can see how giving it up freed me to belong to Christ more fully. Yet, as a young 20-something, it was difficult for me to separate out the positive call to discipleship from Jesus from my gung-ho "Yes Lord" that had me straining my spiritual muscles to the point of pain. It's as if I valued the pain more than Christ, or mistook the pain for Christ. Pain is not foreign to discipleship, but I think the crux of the matter is differentiating a sharing in Christ's pain, borne of love, and a pain I undergo in a teeth-gritting, man-this-is-going-to-hurt-but-Jesus-asks kind of way. That goes back to this other post I wrote recently, about gouging out one's eye. Christ is no sadist; He does not love to see us in pain. He loves us to be with Him, and to be immersed in the fire of His passion, in the life of the Blessed Trinity, which is self-donating love.

I still am called to practice renunciations of various sorts from time to time. I believe that in general I have learned to be more gentle in it, but I see that I still have a ways to go before I always realize that real renunciation is always an act of love, of passion, of unity with Christ.

Monday, August 02, 2010

An Old Journal Tumbled Out at Me

Today as I was putting something away in my closet, and old journal of mine fell at my feet. I noticed that it covered the period during which I began my journey into the Catholic Church, so I sat reading for awhile. Of course, I have many memories of those days, but it was very interesting to read my first-hand experiences as I was living through them. The first year I waded through was before any inkling of where God was leading me had occurred to me. It was sometimes hard to read, because it was so evident to me that I kept ramming head first into the same wall again and again. Why could I not see it at the time, I wondered? I was so full of "God's hope" one day, when circumstances were happy, but the next day, or sometimes later that same day when circumstances changed, I figured God had changed, too.

It was interesting that I did not record some of the major internal conversations I remember, the catalysts. I realize that I was not very much in tune with what was truly significant and what wasn't. But there were some details that I recorded that I had truly forgotten about. One was about the neighbor downstairs. At one point I wrote about how he had come to talk with me. He was very sweet on me, and frankly he scared me because I didn't know how to make him leave me alone. He was a good 10 years older than myself, and a very soft-spoken, passionate, intense type. Now, at the time I was very much like a functionally-broken appliance -- you know, the kind whose knob only works if you jiggle it just the right way or apply a certain pressure in a certain direction on it. This conversation, which cost poor Randy significantly (I learned he, well, had a wagon and fell off it after I brushed him off), was like that kind of a patch-job courage boost for me. It emboldened me enough to have a conversation a few days later with my friend Keith about his new-found Catholic faith. Without Randy's expressed interest in me, I might not have had the courage to air my questions that opened me to reading about the Church. Seems perhaps I owe Randy some retroactive prayers, huh.

I was also amazed at how concrete and tangible grace became to me as I was drawn to the Church. Old patterns dried up and died off. I found myself experiencing security in my relationship with God like never before. God's direction to me as I gleaned from Scripture was consistent, insistent, filling me with courage and peace. And most significantly I began to see the importance of my humanity. I knew that this was a key theme that has stayed with me since those days, but it was interesting to see that I was aware of it and wrote about it in those terms.

I know that I was not without problems (at that time and later), but it was also clear to me to see that problems became excruciatingly more difficult for me the more isolated I felt from others. And that sense does not come to me simply from being alone, but from blockages in me making it difficult for me to open my heart. Even when it seemed to lead me nowhere in particular, Jesus was always impressing upon me to go with my heart.

My most overwhelming sense after reading that journal is sheer gratitude for what God has done for me. I've changed tremendously, mostly for the better, since those days. I'm glad a friend recommended journaling to me back in my late teens, because it has truly become my own record of God's wonderful works, a testimony to his faithfulness and my recurring needs.

Show others the happiness that comes with knowing you are loved and protected.

On the first of every month, our Lord gives Anne a new message about His call to service.
August 1, 2010


Be at peace in your work, dear apostles. Neither hurry, nor delay. Do not pause in your service to heaven, wherever that service has taken you. We move at a steady pace if we are together. If you are working without Me, you may find yourself either hurrying or delaying. I do not hurry and I do not delay. Test yourself today. Determine your pace. If it is steady and you are calm, all is well. If your pace is hurried, and you are not calm, perhaps you have forgotten that it is My work you are doing, and not your own. If you have stopped working for heaven, because you are sad, frustrated or discouraged, then that is a sign that you need Me to renew you and restore your confidence in our togetherness. I speak to you of abandonment and I ask you to regard the outcome of your service as irrelevant in that you are not in control of the fruits of your day. Most days, you will not see the fruits. Most days, you will not be able to understand the fruits. This is because My beloved friends have a limited understanding of heaven’s power and heaven’s patience. If heaven has a goal to accomplish, heaven begins preparing early. Much of your service, My dear apostles, will be that of sowing seeds for future conversions. Dearest apostles, so close to Me, can you accept this? Will you trust Me? Many people contribute to the construction of a building on earth. Think of all that happens before the building is erected. All of the materials must be created and fashioned and then assembled and there must be a plan. The people producing the materials may never see the building that is erected through their cooperation. It is this way with the Kingdom of God. There are many hands at work in this world assembling materials for the construction of the edifice that the Father has willed for His Church on earth at this time. You are my diligent workers who cheerfully stand forward to serve the King. I thank you, dear friends. I urge you to trust, to patience and to lively participation in this plan, wherever I have placed you. Rejoice! Show others the happiness that comes with knowing you are loved and protected.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

More about Putting to Death

So, today at Mass I heard this reading from Colossians:

Brothers and sisters: If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory. Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry. Stop lying to one another, since you have taken off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all. (Col. 3:1-5, 9-11)

I was struck by another reference to "putting to death," after just musing on this theme in my last post. This text, from Paul, is obviously written in a post-Easter, post-Pentecost context and understanding. His understanding of what it means to "put to death" is rooted in the fact that we are now in Christ, and raised with him (in baptism, cf. Rom 6:4-5). Paul tells us we have died, and therefore we put to death. This is like saying, you have been saved, so bring yourself into your salvation. This whole concept of the timeline of salvation and how we experience it is a key difference between Catholic Christian teaching and the variety of non-Catholic Christian teachings. I have been given Christ's life. His passion, death, resurrection and ascension accomplished in time the offer of new life to me and the rest of the world. My baptism imparted spiritually to me all of Christ's potential for my life. And my process of living, this gift of grace that I have called my life, has as its entire purpose the outworking into my experience of all that potential in and by the power of the Holy Spirit, transforming my will and making real, actual changes in who I am, so that in my unique individuality I am made to be like Him.

"Put to death" suddenly takes on a whole new meaning in this thorough-going Christian context. There is one death that means anything to me, and that is Christ's on the cross. When I "put to death," I bring my immorality, my impurity, my passion, and my evil desire (which means I first have to own it, not live in proud denial of my sinful reality) and render it up to Jesus on the cross. In practical terms, to me this means I bring the worst of me before the deepest, most passionate love of God expressed to me, which is Christ on the cross. And there, I find that love wins. Love is stronger than sin, stronger than death. In my most vulnerable I find not a kick in the gut, not rejection, not a entrance-exam-of-worth that I could never pass, not silence, but I find God's deepest passion... yearning ... for me.

And it occurred to me today that this is precisely what every single Mass is about. I am to bring my life just as it is, again to Calvary. I come to put death that which is impure, but not just that. I come to walk away with the gift of life in my body, having met my Lord in His deepest passion and received into me His life in exchange for my death.

I'm sure there's an applicable quotation from St. John of the Cross for this. I'll have to go searching.