Friday, July 29, 2011

Feast of St. Martha: Serving and Feelings

There are some gospels or themes about which I imagine I might never hear a new or original thought in a homily. One of these themes is that of St. Martha. Of course, one does not need to hear a "new" thought in order to meditate on Scripture, but it helps me to hear something I don't expect to hear. A new connection makes meditation more productive for me. And Father's homily this morning presented one of these opportunities to me.

He said, as if talking to Martha, "When you are busy serving this person and that person and doing these charitable things, do you stop and think, 'How do I feel about the person I am serving?'?" That really struck me. His point was drawn out of Martha's words, "Lord, if you would have been here, my brother wouldn't have died" and the sense that we, like Martha, can be busy serving and miss Jesus present with us. But it really struck me, this notion of being present to one's emotions in the midst of working, of service. I thought of the conversation that brought about this post ("I Need to Trust my WHAT?!"), when last Fall I faced how I have habitually handled emotion. I immediately saw the wisdom in what Father was saying this morning, and what the other Father had said to me last November (Marie, you need to learn to trust your feelings.)

I thought of times when I had followed certain courses of action, not just for a moment but for a long time, while trying to ignore my emotional cues that something was wrong. I don't for a moment believe that when one is doing God's will it feels good 100% of the time. Sometimes doing God's will is terrifying. But that's just one feeling. Choosing to compromise one's soul, choosing to cheat, choosing to be lazy, choosing to vent anger, choosing to go all boneless chicken and let someone else call shots I should be calling -- these all come with feelings, too. And it's so easy to rationalize away one's sins by calling objectivity as one's defense. I'm being friendly; that's a morally good thing. I'm serving Jesus dinner; how could there possibly be any fault in that? Well, but where's that heart? Hmm? And how can you tell if your feelings, if your self-awareness is anesthetized?

The soul can be a very confusing place, a very disordered place. It is when we bring it to Christ that order is possible and starts becoming a reality. Part of that process of bringing our souls to Christ is to be aware of those emotions, acknowledge them, and start being honest about them before the Lord. You know, Lord, when I'm trying to be friendly to this person, I can't escape a sense of being used/prostituting myself/cowardice, etc. What is that, Lord?

The very cool thing about being in a relationship with Christ is that this question doesn't just reverberate back to me. I pray, I read and hear His Word. I live. I'm open. He leads me. He teaches me. He speaks to me. He answers the question. It isn't navel gazing; it's living with Jesus.

Jesus with us. That's what He was trying to say to Martha. I'm with you; does that register in your soul?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

In Which She Goes on a Rant about Language

Here's a random rant that has not been precipitated by anything in particular today but reverberating thoughts (and perhaps a few reverberating hormone chemicals).

I don't mind what language people speak. Speak English, speak Spanish, speak Danish or Hindi. I don't care. But please, oh please, talk like a human being.

I have friends who are poetic. I have friends who are funny. I have friends who are blunt and who have dry humor. Well, maybe I can't think of a dry humor friend right now, but I have dry humor and that counts. These are all ways people talk like human beings, and human beings are all different.

It creeps me out to no end when people talk using someone else's stilted lingo. I can't stand it when people want to get all "professional" sounding, using jargon their listeners don't. There's this sense of "high and mighty" that comes wafting down when people are afraid to simply talk using normal language.

Oh, I'm really only griping about myself, of course. This used to be me through and through. Doesn't mean it still doesn't grate on me. I suppose getting really infuriated about something is the only way one ever drop kicks junk out of one's life.

A lot of times when people cling to weird talk (religious people do this all the time, and it makes me cringe the worst! No, really, it makes me want to vomit.) it seems that the key is the person has not learned how to integrate what they profess with who they really are. Ok, it's a process. I understand. You're allowed. But the worst thing is that when people are trying to give answers to the world, but they can't talk from the heart. I want to just say, SHUT UP then! You know what? I don't want a bunch of pre-packaged answers. Show me your heart, and I will be very interested. I promise. I like hearts. I hate pre-packaged stuff though.Get down here on level ground with the rest of us schlunks and talk from your heart.

There. End of rant.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


Now that I have started recording this CD, I have so many thoughts breeding like rabbits in my mind. It's like an  explosion of insight, this experience. I owe each facet attention, in turn, but for now I'm trying to think about just this one: perfectionism.

Perhaps I start here because it seems a relatively easy aspect. I have never considered myself a perfectionist. Perfectionists, in my mind, are people who are uptight, never pleased -- impossible, really to please. And detail oriented. Every detail has to be just so, or they can't be comfortable.

Maybe it is easy for me to characterize perfectionism this way because that's not me. I'm pretty laid back, and I'm not particularly detail oriented.

But then I listen to my voice blaring over the speakers, and I hear the foibles, the missed notes. I hear myself speeding up and slowing down like some kind of 1905 hand-cranked motion picture.

And here's how I don't react. I don't think Lord, that's awful. Gotta do that again. I have to do better. I have to get this perfect.

No, my initial reaction, my feeling, is something more akin to "Wow, is that really the best I can do?"

Herein lies the rub. I really could do with a tiny dose of what I'm calling perfectionism. Because what I'm facing instead is a lifelong tendency to be happy with "good enough." To figure that whatever I do off the cuff is actually the best I can do.

I've known that this recording project was in part about the Lord's call to me to meet Him and have Him challenge some old ways in my emotional and mental processing. He's not disappointed me. I don't have any blueprint or agenda from Him, though, so everything comes as a surprise as we go along. And with this one particular facet I am reminded of something I wrote in this blog long ago about my schooling experiences. (It was in this post about Alfie Kohn's book Punished By Rewards.) Essentially what I'm driving at is that in school, I often just aimed low, for the grade, and not high, for actual learning, growing, changing, gleaning education. Most of the time I was able to get As or Bs at least without exuding a lot of effort, and if I had to put forth too much effort, I usually just avoided those subjects (like sciences in college). There were some exceptions, notably Alegbra/Trig in 10th grade. I remember lying in bed at night crying about that class, and being overcome with anxiety over it. I ultimately managed an A, but I also had to pay a book fine at the end of the year because I significantly abused that book in my frustration. It was horrible. And why? I think I didn't really know how to learn when I didn't understand something, and I didn't know how to be taught. I didn't know that being able to be taught has something to do with loving. The New Yorker author David Brooks has said, "We've spent a generation trying to reorganize schools to make them better, but the truth is that people learn from the people they love." My Trig teacher was an interesting character, but I can't say he inspired love in me. My 8th grade Algebra teacher, Mr. Blum, now he inspired love. And what I mean is that I knew he was teaching me. It wasn't because of any individual attention, because there wasn't any. But he taught the whole class in a way that conveyed that he wasn't focused on a textbook; he was focused on the students' grasping Algebra. It probably had to do with the fact that he was teaching a then-experimental "advance placement" group in a newly merged Middle School. But for whatever reason, I personally felt taught. I knew it mattered to him personally whether or not I understood. He wanted all of us to succeed. And -- he seemed to love math. That's gotta help.

But that was a unique experience for me. Most of the time, as I said, I just put forth whatever effort I felt like mustering, and I usually got good grades as a result. I learned to identify the things I naturally liked, but I had very little actual education because I was never really being drawn out, challenged, inspired, by anyone I felt any human connection to. I produced good grades but I never learned much. In college this changed I think, but there I was primarily exercising myself in my areas of strength (writing, literature and philosophy), areas that gave me an adrenaline rush but not anxiety when I had to essentially prove I was learning from my own reading and study and share this with my classes and my professors.

So what's the point? It's just this: with the exception of a rather narrow corridor of strength, I've been very slow to learn to try to do things excellently. That corridor was just enough to make me into an arrogant such-and-so. And since I'm no longer pursuing arrogance, all I find myself left with is the "good enough" approach. You know, hey, whatever.

The plan to muck through life this way has never particularly bothered me. But now, I listen to my voice, my guitar-playing. Music is supposed to mean so much to me. I'm thinking, this is how I convey my soul... no... this is how I give myself to love God. How? "Good enough?"

It's a mistake to believe one's acceptability is rooted in how well one can do things. God loves us because we are. No, He loves us because He is love. He couldn't be anything else. But His love, touching us, begs a response. Love begs for love in return. As St. John Chrysostom said in today's Office of Readings: "nothing so much wins love as the knowledge that one’s lover desires most of all to be himself loved."

So, this is something that is going on for me right now. Jesus calls to me: Love me back. Don't be afraid, and don't be selfish. Give me more. Strive to be perfect. But it's all about love.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

How to Be Yourself

Yesterday when I woke up it was all crystal clear to me. This is something I've been hearing and grappling with for years -- ever since God called me to the Catholic Church at the end of 1991. I used to hear or sense God say to me that what He wanted was for me to be myself, and it would frighten me, because I didn't know how to do that. I didn't know just what that meant. In some ways, it has been at the crux of my spiritual journey for the last three years, constantly. And yesterday when I woke up, it was so obvious to me that I could delineate it in steps.

How to Be Yourself

Step One: God calls to you.
You don't make this happen; this is God's initiative. But it is universal. God calls to everyone.

Step Two: Acknowledge the call
The response you give to God ("Yes, Lord?") opens and begins to align your heart to your Creator, your Origin, your Meaning.

Step Three: Receive
I'm picturing this in somewhat abstract artistic terms of one movable piece of creation lining up "under" so to speak a fount or source of something flowing into it. That piece of creation which you are can of course choose to move out of alignment, and sometimes changes in the force of flow can require some movements to stay in alignment. But the key is to constantly remain in/seek out that subordinate relationship with the vitality of the flow of the divine. You do not control this flow or make it happen. You must receive it.

Step Four: Live the Glory

As that vitality of God reaches you, it transforms you. It purges, cleanses, reshapes, cuts away, refreshes, enlightens and revitalizes you. In this state, you live and carry out your normal daily business. This is the presence of the glory of God in you. This is you being yourself: the self God has created and is creating, the self through which God brings His presence into the world and multiplies this on-going process in the lives of others, without you trying or even noticing.

You are not going to be without flaw, without weakness, without sin until we are fully purified and finally in the presence of the Lord Himself in eternity. But we live in hope, with the first-fruits of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, longing for heaven and loving our brothers and sisters, for we are all somewhere in the process all the time. God calls to all. Not all hear. Let us love and make His call easier for those lost in pain to hear.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Blathering about my CD

I have been in high processing gear for the last day or so. I'm getting ready to start recording my CD this coming Saturday. I blathered on about how this came about once before. I had an intuition or premonition when I first set out on this path that there would come a point where instead of being my haven from anxiety, my own music would become an occasion for anxiety. That's been playing out now that I'm actually having the rubber hit the road, so to speak.

I get into these situations from time to time where, as I tell my husband, I find it extremely difficult to put into words what is actually happening internally. My brain thrives on understanding, on being able to make connections between what I know and what I don't know. When I find this difficult or elusive, I really can find no rest. I will rehearse in my mind the things I've experienced, searching for this understanding. Often during these times, even the things I know for certain no longer feel like they make any sense. And in all these regards I am speaking of spiritual realities, inner understandings -- that sort of thing. I know the sky is blue and food is fuel and putting the car in drive makes it go forward. But these types of things hardly ever interest me in the first place.

So tonight I'm just blathering for the sheer joy of working these thoughts out of my brain. What I notice developing, what I notice striking me (with staying power) is a sense I pull from a poor exegetical rendering of Ephesians 2:14: "For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh." The actual context of the "both" in this Scripture is talking about the Gentiles being engrafted into Israel in the Church. But this verse strikes me with a more personal meaning. Because of factors in my early life, I have always carried about this sense I'd call having two lives: an inner life and an outer life. I suppose if I thought long and hard I could describe how this came about, but that's not really my concern at the moment. Earlier on my "inner" life was weaker and often ignored, and I considered my "outer" life the most worthy of development. Then, say as a later teen, I wanted to honor my inner life but felt my outer life was my master, my reality, the reality everyone else considered important. It is significant that my relationship with God (though not always my religious observance) was something I very much counted as part of my inner life. But the most important aspect of this inner life was that I carefully hid it. I habitually kept it protected from whatever hurt, misunderstanding, or intrusion I felt coming at me from others.

As I matured, my deeper held values seeped down into my inner life, and to some extent, I began living my life more out of this place. My "outer" life, meaning those things I did or followed more extrinsically, I more and more allowed to fall away. I began to live my own views about things like health, education, and parenting.

But I remember clearly one time I went to confession early on in my marriage. I mentioned this sense that I've had this private life that involved my faith, and the fact that I was frustrated with my inability to undo it now in my relationship with my husband and my in-laws. I had practiced this separation for so long that I was unable to do anything else but keep certain intimate parts of myself locked away.

The one thing that has always played a part in both of my "worlds" is music. And I think what I am realizing is that right now, this music project and all of the inner swirls it sends me on is all about breaking down the wall in me that has created these two different worlds. I had a very strange experience last night of relating a deeply formative, deeply personal story to a friend of mine, verbally. I do this all the time in writing. But I rarely do this (especially with this person in question) verbally. I didn't for a minute regret sharing it (I've already blogged the story ad nauseum), but I think the unlabeled feeling was there that I had breached the wall. Even though I have gotten very fluent at living out of my inner life, I had nurtured certain... limitations, I guess, that kept the division in place. It seems that God's business at hand is to finally do away from this distinction: to make me but one person. That my inner life is my inner life that I share in the world because it is who I am, and not my secret life that I hide in subtle ways.

One thing I am doing with this music is taking my innermost soul and putting it on display for strangers. Yeah, that's a little weird, a little freaky. I suppose it is what I've been doing with blogging for years now to some degree. But this music thing feels like it has a much bigger obedience factor. I write as a catharsis and a way to hear myself think. Music has long since stopped being that for me. Music, my music, is now a gift of self. I'm not polished nor professional nor the most talented person in the world, but these things are not really my concern. I am producing this cd because I feel that to not do it would be stepping out of obeying the Holy Spirit. It's quite literally like this picture:
I don't have any real ambition for this gift, though I would like for it to be received by people of course. What I want most in life is to be an agent of healing for those in pain. But I know full well I have no power to heal. I don't say this in any dejected way at all. It simply is the reality. God is the healer; Love is the healer. I pray and have prayed continuously that God would use the little gift I offer for the purposes He desires.

And I know his first desire is that I live with a full, undivided heart before Him. I can't make choices for you or for anyone. I can choose faithfulness to Christ for myself, and choose I must (2 Cor. 5:15 -- the love of Christ compels me).
Marie Hosdil: Unleashed

The Pain of Being Healed

The gospels' accounts of Jesus healing people have always intrigued me. Most homilies I hear focus on what Jesus is doing in these scenes, and I suppose that's all well and good. But I am always drawn to think about the person being healed.

Take for example the man with the withered hand in Luke 6. However it was that he earned his livelihood, he had an inherent life struggle where others took full functionality for granted. What was his social standing like?  The Pharisees are picking a fight over religious rules, and what does Jesus do? He tells the man, "'Come up and stand before us.' And he rose and stood there." Was Jesus just using this man to make a statement about the Sabbath? Hardly. There was something in Jesus' presence that drew this disabled man. That something filled him with the confidence of being called, loved and freed to stand up in front of everyone and, at Jesus' request, hold up for everyone to see this part of him that had caused him his life's frustration. "Looking around at them all, he then said to him, 'Stretch out your hand.' He did so and his hand was restored" (Luke 6:10).

But think. What happened to the man later? He suddenly had the functional use of both his hands. We don't know how long he had had his problem, whether it had been life-long or not, and we don't know how his muscle function was right off. There was going to be an adjustment period for him, a re-learning, a clumsiness in learning to live with two hands. If he went on living at his former mastery level, what would this say about how he integrated into his life what Jesus had given him? Healing itself causes more challenges to be worked through. Perhaps he had only begged before. What would become of his standing in the community? Would people be willing to give alms to a man who now appeared, on the outside at least, to be completely whole?

Another healing story I love is in John 5 -- the man at the pool of Bethesda . This was a spot where the chronically ill and disabled gathered. Jesus sees this man, knows he has been sick for a long time (38 years), and approaches him with a question: "Do you want to be well?" It is a very telling question. When we have a chronic condition or situation we lose a sense of power, of choice, and the situation can become our identity. I am sick. I am blind. I am sinful. I am bitter. I am afraid. I am lonely. I am proud. I am disorganized. You get the picture. Jesus doesn't ask the man about his problem. He asks him if he wants change. The man's response is equally telling: "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me." I am powerless. Even among us cripples, other people are more powerful than I am. No one helps me. No one loves me enough to put my needs before theirs. I've been abandoned. I won't say it's funny -- ironic is a better word I suppose. Here is the Son of God personally singling out this man to help him, trying to provoke him, to awaken a desire in his soul, and the man is stuck on how he has no help. Jesus is so humble, so patient with the man. He blows no trumpet, doesn't announce how of course the poor schmuck has no help, but Jesus the Do-Gooder is now here, so he should stop his miserable whining, realize in Whose presence he actually is, get a grip, and receive this wonderful magic trick He was about to do over him. No. Jesus, humble, but with all the power the man lacks, speaks the word of command, and instructs the man to be the instrument of his own healing. "Rise, take up your mat, and walk."

Now, there's a guy who was going to face a hugely different life the next day! Talk about learning to live all over again!

Step one: God heals us. Step two: we have to learn all over again who we are. We are changed by encounters with Christ, and that change can indeed happen instantaneously. But there is an organic process, too, a growing process, and I think that happens more in a pace with the rest of the unfolding of life. The foolish thing, though, is to lose sight of the healing we have, especially in the Sacraments. We are foolish to live as if we have no power when we have been given divine life itself. It is foolish to sink into believing we have no hope of transformation when the Church lays out for us all of the riches of grace. If we look to someone other than Christ to figure out who we are, we will be lost and hopeless. Follow the presence of Christ, and you find the path to Life.