Saturday, June 30, 2012

There is No Need to Fear

Somewhere on this blog I have the badge that goes with my Myers-Briggs profile. You can see that it has me as 100% Intuitive. I've taken this test many times, and it always comes up the same way. It makes me think that there is another way that people -- like the vast majority of people on earth -- process information (sensing capacity) that I simply don't relate to at all. I wonder if it is the same sort of thing as being color blind; like there's a whole world of blue-green out there that I know nothing about.

But I do know something about being intuitive. It means that I often know things, and know them completely, without being able to say what I know or say how I know it. But then there comes a time, sometimes, when pieces come together, ideas come together, experiences come together, understanding comes together, and all of a sudden I say "naru hodo"! Now I get it! And then I can actually say what I know.

Sometimes these moments are so profound that they strike me as far more than "understanding."  It's more like they envelop my soul and inevitably make me weep.

I was on the cusp of something like this this morning, and at Mass, right at the consecration, it hit me with full force. I'm not sure I have the words to do it justice, but I will try.

The last blog post I wrote, called "Learning to Trust," located the thread that I needed to pull on. My take-away idea there was that God is the "bigger than" that is involved in any event or circumstance in my life.

What I saw since writing that is something within my own heart. We don't trust as generic people; we trust out of our own unique history. It takes going back through that unique history to really hear God's word that speaks into our souls.

Fears are funny things. We know when we are afraid, but knowing exactly what we are afraid of and being able to say it are, well, hard, at least for me. I don't know if this goes back to an intuition versus sensing thing or not. I realize that some people are afraid of concrete things, like snakes, and figure out easily to say "I'm afraid of snakes!" It seems reasonable to other people for a person to fear snakes, so it isn't like admitting a fear of milk (like my friend Mr. Monk).

When a fear sounds like a betrayal of people in one's life, though, I think it becomes very hard to admit. Because it isn't nice for children or those with emerging maturity to sound like they are blaming those around them for failing them. And, apart from a good grounding in theology, that's all it could be....

What I'm talking about is this: I can now articulate the fear that I've had since childhood, which is fear of being the strongest person I've known. A fear of the utter incompetence I've picked up on in the people around me.

That's sounds incredibly arrogant. But, objectively, it makes sense, because nobody is perfect. I think I have always been extremely sensitive to that fact, but I didn't know what to do with it. What I did actually try to do with it, I also realized, was disregard my intuition on this point, sometimes when I sensed it the strongest. This helps me understand how I flung my trust into the hands of some completely unworthy people in my day. Sometimes I took horrible advice from people close to me, just because I was thrilled to be given advice by them. I could grind my intuition into the dust and trust their in words as in a magic potion. All because I desperately did not want to be disloyal and say "That's stupid." Or, at least to rationally process it that way, and act accordingly.

So, what I've found is that either I've been left to my own strength, which has terrified me, or I have leaned on what I perceived in someone else as the type of strength I've been looking for, and have ended up taken advantage of, treated harshly or shamefully, or something else that left me smarting.

But the Lord has been doing something in my heart for the last few years. It began with my becoming a parent, which did not happen in the customary way for me because of very slowly adopting my son out of the foster care system. One day, I suddenly had an 8-month-old baby to care for. It took some time before I developed any natural sense for what I was doing. It may have even taken until I was pregnant with my daughter. But here's the thing -- when one is a Mommy at home all day with children, one needs to no longer fear being the strongest one around! I learned though that strength does not equal domination, but that it entails showing respect and looking out for others' best interests and not just my own.  This was all a learning adventure for me, and it helped me that my son has an extremely strong will. He made sure I learned both about being firm and respectful.

But there was something else the Lord wanted to get to. And it was not just about not fearing my strength, but about experiencing strength through someone else, so that I could know that the "something" I have been looking for, and bemoaning not seeing in others all these years, was actually God Himself, deeply engaged in my life. I've known that God is deeply engaged in my life, but God has chosen to operate through His Church, which necessitates other human beings responding to the Holy Spirit's directives to them. Like it or not, these other people are just necessary! That's the norm.

A few years back, God sent a certain friend to my life with a sort of nonchalant directive, "Here. Trust this guy." At first I thought, "You're kidding me, right?" But as time went on, I saw God was very serious about teaching me something. Many things, actually. Things that had to do with me not being the strongest person I knew. Things that had to do with me being built up, not torn down or taken advantage of, or being treated shamefully. All along, I knew God was working, but of late it has been hot on God's agenda with me to sort of peel back my friend's tutelage so that I could truly see His work.

And today at the consecration, with tears running down my face, I realized: God is infinitely stronger than I am, and never, ever would He steer me wrong, take advantage of me, treat me harshly or shamefully, or do anything to harm me. I can be as strong as I can be, but I'll always be at heart like a little child to Him. He, however, does a great job at ordering the universe, and I don't need to worry about that. It is also no burden at all on Him for me to expect everything from Him. That's exactly what He's after. His strength is my freedom.

And, as for what I lack: as I drink in the reality of His strength that surrounds me, I can learn to be gentle and relaxed about this life, even if circumstances are dire. It doesn't all depend on me. I can respond to people yes, with strength, but also with peace that comes from knowing the One who is bigger than it all. Then His presence will be evident through me.

I'm not there, but at least I see where I need to go. That's a lot different than wandering aimlessly, crouching fearfully in a corner somewhere.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Learning to Trust

Last night I started writing about trust, but got too tired before I could get any clear flow of thought going. Today the familiar tide is rising -- the sense of having anxiety oozing like slime out of my veins and into my bloodstream. Perhaps this only makes writing impossible. But perhaps it makes it all the more vital to try to do.

Seems to me that trust is a lot like writing. Writers like having written; believers like having trusted. But writing and trusting both involve things that are not always easy or pleasant. You never have any reason to trust if you are never in a position of need, vulnerability, risk, danger, or dependence. In other words, you can get by fine without trusting as long as you don't insist on living.

Trusting God, I have found, is an astoundingly beautiful thing. I think that somehow from the first that I really became aware of God's personal presence in my life, I have desired to trust Him. Trusting other people was another story. How strange of God, who longs for us with all His heart, to allow human beings including ourselves to have such a big impact on whether or not we will trust Him. He must really like us. If I were God, I may have just made a lot of nice scenery and skipped the people part altogether.

But really, the point is, we look at everything that surrounds us, the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly, and we are supposed to realize that there is One who is bigger than all of it. He gives us signs, nudges, words, but all of that is simply supposed to make us go, "There's something to this that bigger than what I'm looking at, isn't there."

A big part of learning to trust, in my experience, is being willing to get into the place of being a child. That's probably the heart of why trusting can be so distasteful and so scary to so many people. It is certainly why I have at times found it confusing. We must be adult in our interactions; that is, we have to have our rationality in gear and we need to take responsibility for our actions, including our mistakes and sins. But at the same time, we need to be as simple as children. Wise as serpents and innocent as doves, Jesus put it. That requires an extremely conscious choice to be a dove, which excludes being a patsy. Too many people's experience of being a child is that patsy-dom, unfortunately. But I've learned it also doesn't work well to simply be wide-eyed and innocent. One can still end up doing regretful things that way. Jesus' way about trusting is never to just leave us exposed and vulnerable. But neither is it to be so crafty and calculating that rationality stamps out vulnerability, either. Really, what has to stand behind both our serpently rationality and our dovely vulnerability is the fact that God is Bigger. Trust. Our trust is in a person who relates to us as persons, leading, teaching, coaching, coaxing us. We can be the way Jesus tells us because we are in relationship with Him.

I'm thinking of something I prayed a couple years ago on Divine Mercy Sunday. Floodgates are open that day, you know, and during the afternoon vigil I asked the Lord for something, knowing full well that I was asking like a spiritual 2-year-old. (A 2-year-old might ask to have candy for dinner every night; that kind of thing.) The Lord doesn't always, or even all that often, answer me with words, but when He does you'd better believe I remember every one of them. After I made my request, the Lord told me, "What you really want is kept in heaven for you more assuredly than if [this thing I'd asked for were as assured as earth could offer]." What has really struck me about that every time I've thought about it is that God took my prayer very seriously, and He showed me that He understands me better than I understand myself. Because just like a little girl asking for candy all the time might be asking for more than candy (something she associates with candy, like happiness), God directed my heart to that "something bigger" that I couldn't even articulate. I've even prayed, "Lord, remember that thing that you told me that's what I really want? I'm not really sure what it is, but I know it's true. Can you move me closer to it, and closer to understanding what it is?"

There's something bigger involved here than what I'm looking at. Knowing that is the key to trust. God lifts up the simple, the humble, like Mary, whom He made the Terror of Demons! When I can be simple in God's hands, I'm on the right path. Constantly aware of God's presence, of my identity in Him, not clinging in fear or insecurity, but comfortable in His presence "like a weaned child on his mother's lap." There's a metaphor I can relate to! I can tell you a nursing child does not sit on its mother's lap without going after the goods! The weaned child has all the "goods" already, and is filled.

Remember the works of the Lord. Repeat them in your mind. Why did He do things for you if not for you to remember them? Has not God always given you everything you need? Do you for some reason think He will be different in that regard tomorrow?

Be still and trust.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Healthy Fasting for Blood Type O

For various reasons, including the good old-fashioned sacrifice of it all, I have struggled with fasting since I first started trying to do it as a non-denom charismatic. I didn't have a good understanding of the spirituality of it (which I don't believe is all that complicated). However, the biggest obstacle for me to overcome was my natural penchant when it comes to food. Some people will eat when stressed; I tend to starve myself when stressed. So, I couldn't get passed the notion that fasting was all about beating myself up and treating myself terribly because God somehow delighted in that.

Ok, that's weird.

And it isn't at all God's intention.

I'm sure those with far more experience than myself could wax eloquent on the spirituality of fasting, but to me it suffices that Jesus says that some spiritual pathways are only cleared up by prayer and fasting.

Enough said.

In more recent times, I've learned that, yes, fasting produces powerful results. I've also learned that I have to find a way to fast that is healthy. I have a sort of hyper-sensitive chemical make up, it seems, and while I have no problems while I am fasting, and often feel really good physically, when I come off of a fast I can experience a few days of brain-chemistry mishmash. Which is a euphemism for saying I go a bit loopy in my head. I hate it when that happens. It's not a good scene.

I checked this out with my Naturopathic doctor, who explained that starving the adrenal glands of protein makes them overwork to maintain blood sugar levels, and makes for an unpleasant crash. He suggested an approach that is more healthy than, say, fasting just on veggies or just on bread. This approach integrates the work of Dr. Peter J. D'Adamo and the Blood Type diet, which is research showing that different foods are digested differently by different folks with differing blood type categories. (Which is why, for example, people say that eating less red meat helps people avoid heart disease. Blood type A people tend to have a higher rate of heart disease, and also tend to do better not eating red meat. The opposite is true, however, of blood type O.)

This is actually the first week of a 28-day regimen that my doctor sent me. He also recommended a protein shake called Vital Clear and 64 ounces of water every day.

While this might not seem like fasting in a traditional sense, eliminating whole groups of foods can be challenging and require just as much discipline as not eating at all.

I should note that this is designed just for Type O people. I have the others as well if you are interested. Or contact Ohio Naturopathic.

Blood Type O Dietary Guidelines (The "Yes, Eat" list)
• Vegetables: fresh vegetables are preferred but frozen are acceptable. Avoid canned or creamed
vegetables. Focus on: artichoke, broccoli, beet, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, kale, romaine,
spinach, Swiss chard
• Lean Animal Protein: beef/buffalo/lamb/venison/poultry, cod/halibut/wild salmon/sardines/
• Vegetarian Protein: black, garbanzo bean (chickpea)
• Fresh Fruit: apples, berries, cherries, lemon, pineapple
• Gluten-Free Grains: brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, amaranth, chickpea, arrowroot, and
• Non-dairy alternatives: almond, hemp, rice milk
• Nuts/seeds: almonds, pecans, pumpkin seeds, walnuts

Avoid Foods (The "No, Don't Eat" list)
• All avoids on Blood Type Diet
• Gluten: wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut, and triticale
• Dairy: milk, cheese, ice cream, yogurt, butter, whey, casein
• Eggs: yolks or whites, commonly allergenic
• Peanuts/Peanut Butter: commonly allergenic and high in mold
• Corn: high glycemic index and not well tolerated
• Soy: commonly allergenic
• Alcohol: beer, wine, hard alcohol
• Caffeine: coffee, soda, tea, energy drinks; can drink green tea throughout the day, will help with
caffeine withdrawal
• Refined Sugar: candy, cakes, jam/jelly, syrups, canned fruits, soda
• Processed Meats: pork, sausage, hot dogs, cold cuts
• Nightshade Vegetables: tomato, eggplant, bell pepper, potato

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Bucket List

A few days ago I got the most recent copy of the propaganda magazine my undergraduate college sends out. (I always read it with raised eyebrows when I was a student -- how did our humdrum student life get to sound so incredibly amazing when packaged for donors?! Incredible?!) Amongst the comments I noted that apparently it is the thing these days for students to be encouraged to make a "bucket list" and then plan to accomplish these things.

Now, I'm with it enough to understand this is based on a movie I've never seen and means that you are supposed to list all the things you'd like to accomplish before you die.

So I thought about that.

I'm really not the sort of person to think dreamily about things I'd like to do. There have been a few times in my life when a desire welled up in me to do something. One such time occurred when I read The Way of the Pilgrim in the early 90s, which is an account of the spiritual journey of an anonymous Russian Orthodox man. In it, he expressed a desire to go to Mount Carmel in Israel. I was completely taken with the same desire by the time I finished the book, and I told the Lord that if He opened the way for me, I would take it and go. It was several days, maybe a couple weeks later, that I was at a John Michael Talbot concert and he spoke of an upcoming pilgrimage he was making to the Holy Land, and mentioned they would go to Mount Carmel. There was my chance! It worked, and I went. It ended up being my Catholic honeymoon as I went just two weeks after coming into the Church.

Then there was my desire to go to Japan, which was birthed in a much less sublime or even logical way. As a kid I wanted to be a missionary; my best friend was a Japanese-American, and this made me believe going to Japan would be easy. When an already difficult relationship completely broke apart and I had no idea what to do with my life, I looked up opportunities to teach in Japan, and I moved there. It was the worst decision I ever made, at least in terms of discerning what I could handle. But I thought it was what I wanted, and I did it.

The only other thing I wanted deeply was to get married, which I eventually did. And of course then I did also deeply want to have kids, which I also did. Maybe it was these experiences that taught me something about this whole concept of "wanting something and going for it."

There's such an illusion of control buried in that. Sure, we are free to make choices. It's great to be able to follow through on the desires of one's heart, when it's a choice to buy a certain t-shirt or learn to speak Danish. But, when the desires hit the core of who we are, something changes. I wanted to get married for such a long time before I did. All I can say is I thank the Lord that I didn't marry in my 20s. I shudder to think what my life would be like if I had. We wanted to have children right away, and lots of them. That didn't happen. We can want things, but we don't enjoy this illusory control that gives us what we want with a simple decision. At least, that's not the way my life has worked.

I spent a lot of time moaning and crying and griping and complaining to God about both my marriage prospects and my desire for children. Really, the infertility thing broke me, deeply. If children were this wonderful gift from God I could not understand why we were so out of His favor to struggle so. But I think what the Lord wanted of me was that He would become my "Bucket" so to speak. In the midst of caring for a foster son whose adoption was pending and pending and pending, making it so that we could not pursue another adoption while, for a time, living with the possibility of losing him, and at the same time finding it impossible to become pregnant, I finally came to the point of switching my prayer from, "Lord, please do this for us!" to "Lord, here is my life. Do with it whatever You want." Instead of having my bucket full of my desires that I set out to get fulfilled, I reluctantly gave the whole thing to Him. After such a wrestling match it felt more like defeat than surrender.

And yet, God is always to be trusted. We did have a daughter, and we finalized our son's adoption. More importantly, these things were part of God's plan leading me closer to Him and healing my soul. That's what's in God's bucket for me. I know now that His plans always turn out better than mine, even though His can hurt an awful lot (especially when I resist) and frequently leave me confused for a time. But never, ever has God proven unfaithful to me. He always works everything to my good and helps me bear my own mistakes.

So the only thing I want on my bucket list these days is to wake up every day that I get, offer the day to God to be His, come what may, and to have the love and grace in my life to follow as closely as I possibly can the directives He presents.

He gives me so much more, besides.

Friday, June 22, 2012

You are My All in All

Another year of Vacation Bible School is complete. I have to say that my favorite part of it, when I can get it to happen, is not helping with it. I did music for a few years when my daughter was tiny, and between totally trashing my fingers (playing guitar loudly for three hours with no mic, and one day with no pick), my educational ideals, and my introversion, I was always completely wiped out when the week was over. God bless those who love doing that kind of stuff. I had a hard time just being in a church full of kids for the closing Mass. The cacophony of it all!

But thanks be to God for moments during the Mass when, despite a billion distractions, meditation is still possible. As a communion song, we sang this:

Now, it's not so much that I love this song musically (though it is all right). It is more that this song takes me way back. When it first came out in the late 80s, friends of mine gave me the album it was on, along with a songbook with all the chords and lyrics. Also on this recording was some of the artist's testimony, which includes him talking about God delivering him from homosexuality. He gives a brief synopsis of his testimony on his website, here.

This song is now relatively popular in the contemporary music Mass circles where I live, so I hear it a few times a year. But somehow, singing it today amidst all of these children was striking.

Even children experience on some level questions and turbulence about their identity, although I doubt that many think explicitly in those terms. And blessed are those children who experience a sort of natural emergence of questions about their sexual identity, and a mature, loving, grounded, Christian environment in which they can figure out what it all means. I wonder, though, how many children are that blessed.

But then I hear the lyrics to this song, and I think of the innocence of children, and all that transpires in between childhood and adulthood to confuse and cloud our sense of identity. What is the answer to all the confusion in our lives and our culture?

Well, I can tell you what it ain't. It ain't a religious veneer that we use to make our self-directed lives look socially acceptable. No one particularly cares about religious veneer anymore, anyway. That is the definition of secular, is it not? Not only is religion not necessary to be socially accepted as "good," it actually is a hindrance. Religion makes an otherwise "good," socially-acceptable person look intolerant, narrow-minded, and just wrong. Socially, a religious veneer serves a very limited purpose, mostly to keep other religiously-veneered people from getting upset.

But sometimes people need to be upset.

Another way to put it is people need conversion.

Conversion happens when Jesus Christ gets access to deeper and deeper areas of our lives.  Listening to Dennis Jernigan's testimony afresh reminds me of how this is the key to everything for us. Is there anything deeper within us than our own sense of who we are, and especially in our modern culture, who we are as sexual beings? When there is something about this that disturbs us, as Dennis was deeply disturbed by unwanted same-sex attraction to the point of being suicidal, that's a darn effective way for Jesus to get our attention. And what does He do when He gets our attention? He calls us to union with Him. He calls us to walk with Him on a path that we cannot see ahead of time; He calls us to His life, His death, His cross, His resurrection. And as we walk, we see ourselves as we truly are. We get a clear sense of identity because of our union with the One who made us, the only One who understands us fully.

Calling others to conversion tends to just happen by experiencing conversion ourselves, because it is not our own thing but God's thing alive in us that does the calling. It seems to work the best when one is not even aware of God's grace at work. But there is an active surrender that the Lord calls us to, as well. An obedience. A penance. A giving. A belonging. When we are there, when we practice that kind of giving, our identity is in the Blessed Trinity, who made us and gives everything for us. Without that on-going conversion to Christ, our identity is either shifting all over the place in some kind of an anesthesia cloud that keeps us numb to reality, or it gets locked into a lie.

Discovering our identity in God through Christ is the only answer left for our lives and our culture. Thanks be to God for the pain that makes us ask the really hard questions.

It's Not November, But...

There have been a few Novembers where I've done the NaBloPoMo challenge, which is to write a blog post every day for a month. I start out using up the ideas I've been meaning to write about, maybe write a few meaningless things, and then I start to get down to nitty gritty things that my soul actually needs to say, and the commitment to write becomes a useful excuse to actually get important things out of my system. The last time I did this in November, I ended up really pissing somebody off. I never set out to piss people off, but in reality when it happens it's not always a bad thing. Did not Jesus say "Woe to you when all speak well of you?" I just realize that there are some aspects of my life I can only get to when I write. Which is why I write and why I always have written as the primary means of understanding, of arriving at my actual heart. I cannot give to God that which I do not possess, and I cannot possess something that I haven't arrived at.

So I write.

No every-day-for-a-month challenge, but how about every-day-while-I-can. That should do it.

I know that if I write enough, it will be more therapeutic than screaming. Screaming, after all, hurts your throat. Writing, done well, always gives me that sense of having summarized everything. I either summarize everything, or I am left knowing that I haven't gotten it all yet. Both, I suppose are useful in their own way. I get a very deep sense of peace from feeling I have written well and said everything that I have to say. I never get a sense of peace from screaming.

So the scream-every-day-for-a-month idea is right out, I think.

When I graduated from high school I wanted to be a professional writer, and my English teacher encouraged me to go for it. This was back in the day when I had a manual typewriter and a copy of Writer's Market and lots of paper and envelopes. I used to sit down and force myself to write every day then, too. In fact, I still have things I wrote then. I sold one article I wrote to an Assemblies of God magazine and I was ecstatic. That whole ecstasy thing only lasted one summer, though. I wrote a lot, but I had no one to read it.

In college I always used to say that I was born in the wrong decade. Come to think of it, I said it mostly because one of my professors put that idea into my head. He knew I was a hippie at heart so he thought I should have been born in the 40s like he was, to come of age in the summer of love instead of being a fetus then. But now I think I was born at exactly the right time to be currently living in the age of the internet. One of my biggest life regrets to date is that I did not buy myself a computer and get on-line when I lived in Japan in the late 90s. I probably would have saved myself a lot of suffering that way. I used to wait with my breath held when I heard the postman's scooter pull up. I counted the number of steps I heard him take to the second floor, and I knew just how many seconds it took him to reach my door and stuff my mail in. And I knew if it took too many seconds that I was not to get any mail that day. And I had to wait another 24 hours for any hope of a letter.

Normal people, I guess, talk with others. So I've heard. Oh, I do, too. But nothing will really ever take the place of writing. I started writing every day when I was 10. I wrote letters to my best friend, Gail, even though we also saw each other almost every day. Writing was about saying important things, things we wanted to talk about (especially things I wanted to talk about). And even at that age I often finished a letter with a better understanding of whatever it was that I wanted to talk about. I guess that's really why I write. I write because I want to understand. I don't understand and I want to. Sometimes I don't even know what it is I don't understand. But I know that if I write long enough, my soul will let it come out.

Maybe this is like going on a silent retreat and letting all the noise and commotion inside calm down and quiet down.

You know what, I'm actually quite sick of contrasting myself with "normal people" and considering whether I was born in the wrong era or not. I don't even really do that nearly as much as I once did, but still I find myself mentioning it when presenting myself in a public forum. I'm just who I am. I'm just a person. I used to think that to be considered good or holy I had to have a different personality, or just be someone else. That's just wrong. I am the way God made me. I'm a limited human being, but somehow God likes us that way. We all have strengths; we all have weaknesses. I heard a preacher talk about this once and when it really hit me my jaw almost fell to the floor. God made us this way, she said, so that we could know we need each other. God loves us in our strengths and weaknesses because this way we know we are not complete in ourselves. We need others. The first time I really heard that with my gut it blew me away.

I don't know about you, but I feel all my irritating incompleteness, and my first gut reaction is not to run towards people yelling, "Hi! I'm incomplete and I need you!" My gut reaction is more like "man, you don't want to see this shit." But we do, don't we. I mean, if we are honest, we want to know that someone else struggles. Seeing you face your struggle gives me the courage to face mine, and vice versa. So, the big enemy is pride. Pride says "I don't need anyone, thank you." Pride is lonely. Pride sucks.

And pride makes me self-conscious about the fact that I'm the only one who is like me on this earth; that I have to write and write to get into my heart and feel anything real and even understand my own thoughts.

Humility is the key to intimacy. Jesus came by way of a manger and obscurity in order to win over the hearts of mankind. He didn't mind needing other people to stay alive. If God chose to make Himself needy, how do I respond to the need I can't help but have?

I moan a little. And even though I might feel like screaming, I blog instead.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Mr. Monk and the Resurrection of Fiction

Once upon a time, I was an English major and I read a lot of fiction. I went to what was a very small, fledgling college at a time when the student/professor ratio was very low, and the work we did was very intense. The two profs in the English department didn't have to worry about having to read 200 papers every turn-in, so we were assigned a LOT of writing and a LOT of novels and plays that we were expected to be able to discuss intelligently. In that regard, and in many others, my college experience was rigorously ideal. I got some award when I graduated for being an exceptional English major. It was kind of fitting that my department was the only one who neglected to make that award something that was actually concrete. Everyone else got a pitiful little dust collector; I just had the satisfaction of being named. Hmmm... hadn't thought about that one in a long time.

Anyway, I loved literature in those days. There was something about discovery every time I opened a book; I've often thought of it as the closest I ever came to dating. In books I met people who helped me figure out who I was and who I did and didn't want to become. I think the first author I really had a thing for was Sinclair Lewis. He was big on the theme of hypocrisy in society and as a teen I guess that appealed to me. (This was in high school still.) Then I really fell hard for the British Romanticist poets. I did so much reading on them that when I took a class on them my first semester of my Sophomore year, with the then-new English prof, I listened to the first few lectures just drinking everything in and not taking a single word as notes. The professor, with a very memorable cautious sarcasm, said to me after one class, "So, Marie, I guess you already know all this about the Romanticists, huh?" And I dorkily but honestly told him, "Yes! I do!" We got along fine later on, but I always had the sense that I made him feel sort of insecure.

Then it was the dark/weird writers I tended to like: Dostoevsky, Camus, Kafka, D. H. Lawrence. Such were the days. Responding to these authors' works in writing made me feel very much alive.

But then I suppose it was a combination of college burn-out, a sort of academic dependency, and my pentecostal influence that led me to lay all that aside. Since graduating I've hardly touched any classic literature at all. I was into spiritual reading, and then in grad school I doubled my previous academic burn-out on theology. After getting married, all my attention went to non-fiction and what I like to think of as the beginning of my real-world education. I read a million books on health, infertility, then pregnancy, politics, economics, education, arts, or whatever other facts struck my fancy.

And now I realize I have lost my appreciation for fiction. That might have something to do with reading so much stupid fiction to my children over the years. Actually, come to think of it, I suppose there have been some gems there, too, but somehow I thought of it as for them rather than for me. I guess I'll say I'd lost my appreciation of the power of fiction for me.

Maybe now I am re-thinking the potential because of a TV show! How terribly lowbrow! I have not been a regular watcher of TV since about 1987, so I've missed a lot. Many of those years in there I didn't even own a TV. I never saw a single episode of Seinfeld until it went off the air. You could name some random 90s TV show and I would probably assume it was still on the air.

Some years ago a friend had mentioned the series Monk. Just recently, on a rare solo trip to the library with no one else's desires to consider, I picked up a "best of" Monk DVD, and now I'm hooked. I've watched all of seasons one, two and four so far, so don't leave me any comments with spoilers, please (even though I've already read some on Wikipedia).

There's something about these fictional characters that reminds me of how I used to read novels. The fact that Monk is a detective with OCD makes it easier, I suppose, to write about him as a character than, say, some other run-of-the-mill detective from other crime shows I've watched where who the characters are as people doesn't really enter into the plot line -- no, wait, maybe I've never noticed any ongoing plot lines. It seems that good fiction (and no, please no, I don't want to get into some egghead debate of what makes good fiction) makes you care not only about the story at hand, but the character that presents a human dimension within the unfolding of another story.

And Adrian Monk presents, in my mind, a very touching human dimension. In real life I know at least one someone with full-blown OCD, and it isn't amusing. Certain people, say, with latent, mild OCD tendencies that they are not always comfortable owning up to, can find such people extremely trying. But in fiction, I can spare myself the real-world interaction and therefore grow in my own comfort in owning up to who I am. (Not very subtle, am I?)

Fictional characters need to be somewhat consistent in order to be believable as characters, unlike real people. While I don't relate to Monk's consistent and severe need for visible order, I do relate to some of his modes of social interaction. In fact, it has really been startling to me to realize this. He has a huge list of phobias (of course, again, characters need exaggerations to be interesting), while I have but a few. Telephones, church doors, walking into banquet halls, telephones, initiating conversations, telephones. I, generally, muscle my way through these, as I suppose most of us do with our phobias. But I am always struck by the childlike sort of dependence Monk has on his female sidekick, Sharona or Natalie, depending on the season. He is so open about his need. In one episode, Sharona rips into him for being selfish and heartless because she reveals a phobia she had and he laughs at her and tells her to suck it up. I fear that I have been in that kind of situation in my life, where I have been seen as similarly selfish and unfeeling. But I can feel, inside me, what it takes for a phobic person (any person) to have compassion on someone else: it takes having compassion on oneself first. It requires being able to say (and believe) "Yeah, I have problems, but it's OK." In another episode, someone asks him in an offhand, non-personal way "Aren't you ever ashamed of yourself?" He answers quietly, without missing a beat, "24/7." Many times the characters confesses to his psychiatrist that he is so tired of being different. His struggles with being who he is ("It's a blessing.... and a curse.") have made him humble. In one episode, a young girl he is questioning asks why he is no longer on active duty in the police force, and he responds "I had a breakdown and was nearly catatonic for three and a half years." That kind of direct answer to a complete stranger seemed perfectly normal to me. It was only his sidekick's reaction that clued me in that this was not supposed to be the way people respond to such questions.

Then there's how the memory of his late wife is depicted. To be honest, those fleeting moments at the close of a show or whatever where he is shown remembering her just make me weep. As a literary device I'd say she represents God. She represents a perfect time in his life, but one that is past. He is filled with this painful longing, and all-consuming desire, and in his deepest need, he turns to her, even though we also see in that his deepest frustration with not being able to solve her murder. I do believe that in this character I've found the first instance in which I can see that sorrow is actually beautiful. In what I've seen so far, I don't find a dark sorrow, a hopeless, meaningless sorrow in him. In one episode, a woman impersonates his late wife, and the question is raised about whether she is still alive and has simply not been in touch with him all these years. In his complete turmoil, Monk says "If this is true, then nothing is true." And isn't it the case that if faith in God proves to be a sham, then there is no truth in life at all, no meaning, no purpose, no root, no connection, nothing. The real human sorrow his experience represents, I see it now, has a real and true answer in the reality, presence and compassion of God. It's like my favorite color combination: shimmering, metallic gold on pure black.

This character is given (by the screenwriters) a strength to accept and persevere in who he is, with all his strengths, and despite his weirdnesses that separate him from "normal society." I think this scratches at things everyone deals with to a certain extent. I can laugh at him reading conversation starters off index cards when he needs to strike up a conversation with someone, because I feel like I need to do that, too. When he doesn't "get" cultural references or doesn't know how to use slang properly, I feel for him.

I think I'm fascinated by this show because it sincerely helps me be able to say with my life, You know what? I have problems, too. But it's OK.

Monday, June 11, 2012

I Have a New Friend

It seems I have a new friend.

Sometimes you just know when you've had a Divine Set-up in answer to something churning around in your heart. Today was such an experience for me.

I happened across a video posted on Facebook ten days ago by someone I don't know in a group I belong to but almost never read or participate in. The video was an hour long. Both of my children just happened to be out for almost exactly the length of time it took me to listen. Big plus -- it was actually a talk given by a man I have a lot of respect for, Dr. Mark Miravalle. I took a class from him in grad school, and I've never known anything he had to say to be a waste of my time. So I started listening, and was hooked.

Oh yes, the new friend: St. Philomena.

I'd heard of her, and knew that a lot of people have a strong devotion to her. I've never been one to get into lots of devotions, although many saints have attracted my attention over the years. But I didn't know anything about St. Philomena's unique story. Some would probably say there's not enough intellectual basis for devotion to her. Intellectual stuff can be such an occasion of pride, and as the Carmelites have been teaching me, one is hard pressed to find a sin that is more odious than pride. There is nothing shameful in simple faith and trust in the experience of the supernatural. The supernatural, after all, is real, or Christianity itself is a sham.

So, I accept that God has heard the cry of my heart for a prayer partner, and that it is St. Philomena.

Here's the video I watched. Maybe you'd like to watch it too. (It's actually all audio with just the same picture displayed throughout.)

Sunday, June 10, 2012

At the Heart of the Gospel by Christopher West

I was once a grad Theology student, and I used to think theological debates invigorated me. Today, I believe there is a proper place for all that, but it isn't within my life. I think of St. Paul's charge not to get involved in foolish and stupid arguments (2 Tim. 2:3), and frankly, sitting around and endlessly picking apart the message of someone who is trying to evangelize by laying out the teaching of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church seems foolish and stupid. Honestly. First spend an equal amount of time trying to evangelize souls as you do nitpicking, then come and tell me why this person's presentation of the nuance of a Pope's teaching is too faulty for you to handle.

Frankly, that's just how I feel about detractors to Christopher West's approach to teaching Theology of the Body. I haven't studied every word he's written and I probably never will. Nor will I ever plumb the depths of everything Bl. John Paul II taught on this or any subject. But Christopher West's new book At the Heart of the Gospel helps me, because I see laid out in print and with theological reference what God Himself has taught me through the painful process of my own walk with him.

A few days ago I wrote this post, which is sorta how I like to argue these days. I argue with the testimony of my life. I can relate completely to the type of person West describes as one side of the disorder-pendulum. I was one who grew up drinking deeply of  Manichaeism, of dualism, of a Puritanical inheritance that had no appreciation of the Incarnation and the radical acceptance by God of the human condition that this entailed and of the Protestant notion that holiness meant something imputed to us.  He acknowledges that there are folks on the other side of the disorder-pendulum, and the importance of understanding what has formed your own heart. These would be the folks who know they have not been squashed by oppression of their humanity but risk being ruled by the indulgence of the flesh. Neither repression nor indulgence are the path of Christ. The path of Christ is the path of transformation into the life of the Blessed Trinity. No matter what kind of human experience we've had, transforming grace is what we need. I'm taking a wild, blunt stab at a summation here, but it seems that what gets people all upset about Christopher West is that many people's approach to sexual morality has looked like this: You all are too wild. Go repress yourselves; that's holiness. But Christopher West is looking at modern culture, reading JPII and saying, That's nuts. It makes the gospel a laughing stock, and empties it of its real power. It's not true, it is not what the Church teaches, and if we can't say something better to people, we are irresponsible as evangelists. There is good news to tell the world about the meaning of why we are created male and female!

There are many nuggets in this book that had me nodding my head in agreement, especially about the painful difficulty of the path necessary to experience the grace of transformation. But I pick out just one passage to comment on directly. He relates a story in this book that he apparently repeats often, of two Bishops, and the woman St. Pelagia of Antioch, who, at the time of the story, was a prostitute. The story goes she was walking down the street wearing very little, and passed the two Bishops. The first looked away immediately; the second looked at her intently. With tears in his eyes, he lamented the tragedy of her state. West asks the question, which Bishop did the right thing? The first one did the right thing, because he knew that if he looked at her he would have lusted after her. However, at the same time, he demonstrated that concupiscence dominated his heart. The second Bishop had a purity which had matured, and he was able to see the body for what it is: a sacramental sign, that which makes visible the invisible mystery of God. The story goes that it was this pure gaze from this Bishop that led to the conversion the prostitute.

I believe this story because I have experienced conversion in this way, too. Those who don't believe this type of "mature purity" is possible strike me like the types who do not believe that the healing miracles of Jesus in the Bible could be true, simply because they lack the faith to receive or perform the same.

Maybe you aren't a broken person. Maybe you have no confusion about the holiness of sexuality or God's intentions in the creation and redemption of humanity as male and female. But lots and lots of people around you are in deep pain, perhaps more widely promiscuous and more profoundly lonely than in any recent generation. How do you effectively reach them with the love of God? That's the question that provokes me.

This is Actually About Christopher West's New Book

Sometimes, living my life feels like witnessing a dramatic performance of a powerful and poignant symphony. It's made of sweet melodies that seem to lift effortlessly from silence, pounding, driving themes that push me relentlessly and leave me no escape, surprising crashes that make my heart pound, sad passages that blend into non-resolution to the point of evoking agony, and a brilliant ending and the stunned silence in which praise I could never put into words wells up, awaiting feeble expression as I stand and clap. This is music that makes me listen differently to everything around me for the rest of my life.

Translating that experience out of the realm of the spirit into English is for me a necessary and delightful work of prayer. But it is made possible by knowing that while it is mine to listen with great interior activity, all of my energies called forth, I am not the creator of the symphony. I experience and respond to something that is infinitely bigger than myself, something bigger than history itself, let along my personal history. I do not create meanings; I discover them.

I discover them because the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.

I think on through eternity I will be repeating to myself: God became man, and that changed everything.

I believe, with a fierce, tenacious faith, that the Incarnation not only changes everything in all creation and all history, but that it also has the power to change everything about our individual human experience, radically, down to our cores. In other words, I believe sanctity is possible and is in fact the calling on the life of each person. Sanctity is living a human life in union with the Blessed Trinity. How we are progressing on the journey to which we are called is not something we can always see or know at any given time, but it boils down to how captivated our will are by Love, who is God.

How do we get ourselves captivated by Love? I laugh to myself as I write that, because the phrasing reminds me of the anxious intensity I've known to "get myself loved" by God. As I heard someone explain it once, that's like asking someone already seated to sit down. You can't sit down "more." But you can be powerfully loved by someone whom you completely ignore. You can even hear their words of love, see their deeds of love, but repeat to yourself, That's not love, and I'm not lovable. I'm not lovable, so that's not love.

How do we get ourselves captivated by Love? Theologians call it an actual grace: Something happens. Some domino, from a long cascade set off by the Incarnation, knocks something right into our lives that we cannot ignore. We are called, compelled to follow -- to move our life into sync with this grace. We quickly learn that the grace is alive. We are further compelled -- with deeper and deeper choices, whether to follow, and counting how great a cost. We begin to give ourselves to life. We reject lies. We allow our hearts to be reshaped, broken, softened. Our gaze finally moves off self and onto Other.

And through it all, one word of abandonment, of gift, of union emerges from the depth human spirit, a response to the One once ignored and disbelieved: Yes. It is not the yes of a slave, threatened and coerced. It is not the yes of the hireling who agrees to an arrangement for his own benefit. It is the yes of the lover who says I give myself to be entirely yours.

This is the yes of Christ on the cross, the yes of Mary, standing at the foot of the cross.

There is a profound mystery here -- I am speaking of Christ and His Church. And of marriage.

Here I set out to write this blog post about Christopher West's new book At the Heart of the Gospel. In fact, I have just written about it. But for those requiring less poetry, I shall try again later, and comment more directly on the text.

PS: That later try can be read here.

Friday, June 01, 2012

June 2012 Message -- Direction for our Times

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

June 1, 2012


Dear apostles, it is with all hope that I speak to you today. I have hope in the vision held by heaven of the future of My Church on earth. I am pleased when I see holiness increasing in My friends and this increase in holiness is what gives Me hope for the Church. Yes, I am urging My followers toward sacrifice and service and many of you are answering with your whole hearts. You, listening to My words and allowing them to change you, are giving Me great hope. With this hope I push on into the world, confident, that while some resist change, others embrace it. Yes, change is happening, most especially in the heart of every committed apostle. You are becoming holier. As you are becoming holier, My Church is becoming holier. Apostles, hear this call with all seriousness. I, Jesus, have everything needed to advance the Church into greater unity. And I, Jesus, can do this as quickly as you will allow Me. Find Me in your soul in each moment you are questioning your role in the Kingdom. I will direct you. I hear many of you saying, ‘Jesus, tell Me what to do’. I am answering, ‘Serve Me’. I am answering, ‘Be committed to your vocation’. And I am answering, ‘Love each person you encounter and My kingdom will come’. Do you see? The details of your life can be discerned with me over time by examining your circumstances with the Spirit I have sent to you. There is no need to be anxious about My will. You will know it in each day and in each day My will can be noted in the duties and opportunities for service. Are you sitting with Me quietly? Are you asking Me to help you become holier? Are you offering Me your will? Or are you serving in the way you desire without willingness to change and adapt when I need you to adapt? My friends, your life will always be changing. This should not alarm you because I do not change and My love for you does not change. Be at peace. Accept that if you are not open to change then you are not open to becoming holier. All is well and I am holding you very close to Me.