Sunday, October 31, 2010

Gearing up for NaBloPoMo

Within the last year or so, Facebook has taken over a lot of my attention and time when it comes to sharing my thoughts, especially the quicker or pithier ones. But tomorrow it will be November, and November is of course "National Blog Posting Month" where decent bloggers everywhere decide that they will show their devotion to their craft and hobby by posting every day. I've done this before, but not lately, and I don't actually recall if I've ever faithfully followed through. But heck, I thought I'd give it a whirl. There's not much better to do in November, anyway, except celebrate Thanksgiving, birthdays, and Advent. Ok, so that's plenty. But, writing can help in all of this by keeping my brain nimble and active, and remembering what day it is. And making the month seem plenty long.

Actually, I've been toying with a theme: Stories I never get tired of telling [Even if I've never told them before]. That's what I'd like to do.

My problem, of course, is having the free time to sit at the computer with the requisite silence to be able to spew my thoughts in any kind of order. If I'm diligent I can carve out time, and diligence is good to develop.

So wish me luck.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

God is Good. Believe It.

Our first experience of God is so important; we either experience Him as the police guard that wants to punish or as Creative Love that awaits. Pope Benedict XVI
It seems to me that there are two different ways, perpendicular ways I'd call them, by which we can grieve the heart of our God. I mean, there are many of course, but maybe most of them can be lumped into one of these categories.

First, we can see God as "the hard man," the "demanding person" that Mt. 25:24 mentions. We can see him as the police guard who notices our every fault and who measures us against a standard of behaviour that proves us weak, miserable, flawed. Moreover it can seem that God's role in our lives is to rub our noses in it, to never let us forget that we essentially suck, that we are intrinsically disgusting and revolting, completely incompatible with the Good and the Holy.

This grieves the heart of our God because it neglects the truth that the entire Old Testament set out to teach us: that despite our sin, God's entire intention toward man is to establish relationship. He is burning with love for us and has wooed humanity for thousands of years. He doesn't just want to just excuse His people or pardon us, He wants to marry us. "Even when he disobeyed you and lost your friendship you did not abandon him to the power of death, but helped all men to seek and find you. Again and again you offered a covenant to man, and through the prophets taught him to hope for salvation" (Eucharistic Prayer IV).

The other way, it seems, we can grieve God, is to accept this idea that God's intention is to establish a covenant with us, but to check the reality of it at the door. This is where we "make a pretense of religion but deny its power" (2 Tim. 3:5). This is where we refuse to meet God as He is, not because He seems so terrible but because He seems too good. I can't accept His goodness to me. I don't deserve it.

Perhaps this is where the two errors cross in their perpendicularity. Truth is, we know we are flawed. We know that there is that about us which is not God. We are limited, creatures. We can either beat ourselves up over this fact, or we can embrace it as reality and grasp what it is to mean for us.

I think this is where the faulty thinking arises: When God pours out His riches, and He does, an individual can get a fear like a child being called in the front of the class for a special honor. There's a fear in being singled out. We are never meant to be "singled out," even though this idea can run cross-grain to our American individualism. (In Japan, people instinctively understand this!) There is something horrible that flashes in our intuition when we consider God bestowing some special blessing on just one person. "It's too much; I don't deserve it!" or "What's so freaking special about HER that she gets that?!" if you are the witness rather than the recipient.

God does deal with us as individuals, but everything, everything He gives is for all. What He gives is Himself, and no single creature, nor all of the created universe of time and space together, is equal to Him nor has the capacity to receive His entirety. However, we do not become ourselves fully until we receive Him to the capacity with which we were created. The Church, in fact, is called "the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way" (Eph. 1:23).

The blessings God gives to each one of us are designed to transform us into His own giving image. In other words, to use a sort of lame cliche, we are blessed to become a blessing. This eliminates any "need" for jealousy, because a gift given to one is really given to all. The amazing part is that God trusts us enough to allow us to be custodians of His gifts for others.

Instead of getting all flustered when we see how God has blessed us (this indicates we are self-focused), we need to open our eyes and look about us to see who it is that God has given this blessing for. And then get busy with the joyful work of passing along that which God enables us to give.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Some Quick Thoughts after Grocery Shopping

I like grocery shopping. Really I do. As long as I can do it by myself and it can be sort of a meditative experience, that is. I like reading labels and bargain hunting and all that. It's fun.

One of the things I find myself heightenedly aware of is the music playing overhead. I wonder what it says about the demographic expectations of shoppers in the store at that point. Either Kroger always plays 60s and 70s music, or I'm just in there when the store expects baby boomers. Probably the latter.

Last week I noticed a lady singing happily along with "The Wedding Song," completely uncaring of whether people were listening to her or not. I like that.

Today I had another thought. This song started playing:

which I think is one of the most depressing songs I have ever loved. It is all about a man who find life absolutely unlivable without his love who has walked out of his life.

And it struck me as true and self-evident: all of our desires, all of the longings in our hearts, everything that moves us is ultimately a desire for God. Whether it is a desire for another person, a desire for glory, power, money, attention, accomplishment, simple relief, a good tasting meal, distraction, even irritation, or anything to interrupt the monotony or pain of life, or the complete lack of feeling -- it is all, ultimately a desire for God. It doesn't always look that way because impurity clogs the vision of our desire, and we think we are scratching with our toes in the dirt instead of mining the deepest riches of existence. But it is all a desire for God.

Nilsson sings plaintively because in his mind, that which he longs for is unattainable. And not only in his mind, apparently; the reality of the relationship bears out that he is "without" this love. Yet, he is still living, biologically at least. The longing in his heart points to something else. There is a "living" he wants that he cannot have without.... his longing fulfilled. Yet I suppose there are other songs written about people who attained the sought-after love, only to find that neither did that bring them ultimate satisfaction.

We are made for the Infinite. Only God satisfies. The joyful news is relationship with that one is attainable. When we call out to Him, watch for Him, listen for Him (with humility), we will find that He has been pursuing us all along, and it is our impurity of heart that makes it difficult to see that reality.

"We live our lives by philosophies, amid worldly affairs and occupations that totally absorb us and are a great distance from the manger. In all kinds of ways, God has to prod us and reach out to us again and again, so that we can manage to escape from the muddle of our thoughts and activities and discover the way that leads to him. But a path exists for all of us. The Lord provides everyone with tailor-made signals." Pope Benedict XVI

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fear and Survivalism; Trust and Peace

Recently in conversation with a friend, I was reminded of when the doomsday of Y2K was on everyone's mind. Do you remember it? Several people I respected were in the thick of major purchases and collections as security against the world as we knew it coming to a screeching halt. In the first half of 1999 I was a grad student who was focused on my upcoming wedding; world news wasn't even on my radar screen. But these friends' plans couldn't help but cause me to question whether I also should be concerned. My gut told me I had no vocation to go off the electric grid or learn survival skills. My gut told me they were getting carried away. And even though on occasion I spoke from my gut to these friends, my respect for them somehow left me somehow with a slightly sticky residue of worry on my soul.

Today there is no magic date on which people fixate (oh wait, how could I forget the end of the Mayan calendar in 2012!). But in certain circles survivalist thinking is alive and well. As I recently told a friend who was finding herself similarly stuck as I was in 1999, I have nothing at all against surviving. It's a good idea. I'm even quite interested in the movement toward homesteading, subsistence farming and, yes, going off the grid. But mixed in with these ideals that I consider quite romantic, attractive and brave, I often find a mentality that is simply toxic to the soul.

I think some people choose to go into a deeper-than-the-cultural-norm step into self-sufficiency because they really love hard work. They love the thrill of subduing the earth and causing things to grow and sustaining themselves. I admire that. Some may also have ideals of providing for others or teaching others to love the work they love. This is good.

But there is something more involved when there is toxicity. Sometimes it is blatant, and sometimes it is subtle, but I think part of the something more is the idea that a very intense form of "bucking up," a form few others are taking, is direly necessary. It's the "I'm going to be fine and everyone else will be screwed" sense. I think there is both fear and pride involved. (Of course, fear and pride are involved in just about every human endeavor! Can't be far off!) There can be this sense (and if you read in certain political circles as I do, you'll recognize this) that I am part of the chosen remnant, the last few people who have any sense whatsoever. There is something very ugly in this. It is the sort of thing that provokes insecurity in others who don't want to be left out, and who would actually consider selling their soul for the safety that the hard working bucker up seems to have. There's some esoteric knowledge that seems they have, and surely I will be among the screwed if I don't follow suit, despite my better inclinations. Something in this appeals deeply to human instincts, and offends human sensibilities at the same time.

In this conversation with this friend, I recounted to her the experience that impacted me significantly back in 1999. It was All Saints Day (November 1), and a warm one to boot. The leaves in our local cemetery were at their absolute peak of beauty, and a lady at Mass strongly suggested a walk there. (It's a very park-like atmosphere, I always have to explain to folks who aren't local.) I went, and sat in one of my favorite spots, intending to pray the rosary. As I looked up at the trees. I don't get moved by trees, hardly ever. But I was suddenly stunned to silence, and the words of my prayers seemed almost a profanation of the holiness of the moment. I was overwhelmed by the realization that this stunning beauty was created by God, and funny little creatures like squirrels were scurrying around it in, as their home. They weren't paralyzed by anxiety. They weren't panicking over their acorn quotas. They were glorifying God by being the creatures they were created to be, expressing their "thanks" in simple living. I knew that even when they died, they would die as God's creatures. It struck me, hard, how silly it was for us to be anxious over Y2K and our lives. There is beauty that is far more than a tree, and there is life that is far more than gathering acorns (or survivalist supplies). I knew that for me to worry over these things was to cut the Author of Beauty right out of the story of my life. And if I did that.... what would there be?!

None of this is to say that hard times do not come to squirrels or trees or people. Suffering and death are asked from us. And there is nothing wrong with trying to shield one's family from suffering and providing for them. But what is our real need and the ultimate provision? There are millions who live in physical want daily. How many more millions live in want of Beauty, even amidst physical plenty?

"Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well." (Mt. 6:33) As Rich Mullins reminds us, the things God promises to add including making sure we "dress like flowers and eat like birds!" What is it I really need and desire? The punchline of this life is that this life is not the punchline. It is eternity. Which, of course, starts here and now. So, how do we store up for ourselves treasure in heaven? (Mt. 6:20) God has promised us "Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you" (Heb. 13:5). With that promise of provision, the provision of God's presence, my life is secure. I trust this to be true because I've seen it borne out in my life. So I can testify to my friend that it is true, just as others who lived it before me testified to me that it is true.

Life is rough, and this is how we need to remind and encourage one another.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Hearing John Waite's "Missing You" after 26 years

The other night I was wandering around You Tube, as I often rather enjoy doing. I like to listen to songs I liked as a kid, or simply songs I would not be likely to hear anywhere else. But the other night I happened to remember and look up a song that was my favorite during my Senior year in high school. It shook me just a bit to hear it again. (Embedding is disabled, but here is the link:

Musically, the song is not very impressive. Even at the time I didn't like it for any impressive musical quality. I thought the singer was cute, but that was probably an after-thought. I liked it because it was the mirror of my soul. I suppose that's why it was a bit troubling to hear it again, to revisit my soul as it was.

The lyrics reflect a confused, hurting, broken, angry, cynical, isolated and hardened man who both bemoans the loss of his love, but insists over and over that he does not miss her. Even the title, "Missing You," reveals the confusion, because he always sings "ain't missing you!"

I loved this song back in 1984 because it put my soul into words. There was no boy in my life that merited all this confusion, though. This song was popular right around the time that I first started to admit the effect that my father's alcoholism had had on my life, which I wrote about here. Like the character in the song, I was a pile of confused pain as a result. I loved my dad, but all I was in touch with was pain and cynical anger towards him.

The poignancy of seeing the video again, I think, was in seeing how it ends with a near-miss of a hopeful and happy reunion. Buried under all the pain the character expresses, there is this glimmer of hope that the viewers see even though the characters don't. I am sure it was that tiny glimmer that made this song so attractive to me (not just John Waite's red hair!). Somehow this song allowed me to tap into my longing just a tiny bit, to express my anger quite a bit, and to hope that somehow there was hope.

Back in the day, this song was like a saving grace to me. I am so deeply grateful that in the 26 years since then I have experienced so many more true and lasting graces that have healed my pain, my cynicism, my anger, and have turned my longing towards the One for whom my soul was made.

Friday, October 01, 2010

"If you trust God, then suffering is viewed more simply..."

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


My dear apostles, you are proceeding through your time on earth amidst many changes. Exteriorly, there is a great deal of motion and upset, which affects God’s children. Some are affected negatively and some are affected positively. Who is affected positively when there is suffering? I ask you this because I want you to view suffering from the perspective of one who trusts in God and trusts in God’s plan for all of His children. If you trust God, then suffering is viewed more simply, whether it is your suffering or the suffering of those around you. If you are suffering, then you are called to endure, but not without God and not without God’s grace. If someone near you is suffering, then you are called to offer compassion and even assistance if possible.  You have the grace to understand your role and to understand your response, whether in your own suffering or in the suffering of those around you. In every experience in life, temptation is possible. If all is going well for you, then you may be tempted to become complacent about your response to the many graces I give you. I would prefer that during times of relative ease, you praise Me and be alert to helping others. If all is not going well, there may be a temptation to believe that your prayers are not heard by God. I would prefer that you use these times to practice trusting Me. Offer your suffering to Me with a heart that shares My experience willingly, not resentfully. Dear apostles, we are together, you and I. The unity we share was always intended by the Father. All is well. Do not be tempted against Me if you are suffering. I will never leave you and I will use your suffering in ways you do not understand yet. You will understand later and you will be so grateful to Me because I offered you these learning experiences. Rejoice. I am always with you.