Friday, June 28, 2013

Surprised by Hope

This morning, our deacon preached on how today's readings bespeak hope. He talked about how we all have dead places in us, like Abraham and Sarah who were too old to have children, like the leper who was not only terminally ill but cut off from the community. These "point of no return" places leave us with no hope for change. The only exception is if there is divine intervention.

Divine intervention is all over Scripture.

And it isn't about people magically getting their wishes, or attitude adjustment that merely sees good in a bad situation.

Divine intervention is about making the impossible possible. Christianity is divine intervention in the human race, making it possible for all of us broken, sinful, self-absorbed human beings to come into union with the creative, holy, self-donating Love that is God -- and to live there, as apprentices, and eventually as masters. All by His gift, offered by Him and awaiting our response.

That mention of the hopeless case of Abraham and Sarah's infertility struck home. Deacon Steve referred to how hopelessness sometimes has to reach utter despair and desperation before it flings itself out with a request like the one made to Jesus today, "Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean." It is the acknowledgment of our own utter powerlessness to change ourselves. I want to be clean, but I have no power to make it happen.

With my own flesh and blood I've written my own story of fading hope and utter despair when it comes to infertility. There's a struggle with one's very purpose, one's sense of worthiness of blessing, of fulfillment. Sometimes there is much grinding that occurs before even being blessed with a sense of climax of reaching desperation, if you know what I mean. I've experienced this in other aspects of life as well. It really is a blessing to reach a breaking point, even though it doesn't feel like it at the time. It's like the blessed release of death. On the other side there is acceptance, learning, and a new kind of life-giving potential. But none of that is evident for some time, only pain.

(I don't wonder that folks sometimes want that breaking point so badly that they make our daily sagging hope worse than it might otherwise be. Like Redd Foxx on Sanford and Son, they are constantly proclaiming, "This is the big one!" A breaking point is a gift of grace, not something we can conjure for ourselves. We need to be patient with the suffering of each day, in all its painful hum drum, hard work, lack of glory.)

I realized today that one result in having written these stories of despair in my own life is that hope strikes me as a demand of reality. My daughter is a concrete person whom I can touch. I am bound, obligated, by my experience of God to hope in the face of these other situations where I have experienced hopelessness. Life is not random. God speaks through everything I experience, and He is not haphazard in His lessons. He is not teaching me to rely on some magical power by which I satiate my passing pleasures. He is teaching me to live in union with Him, which is ultimate, cosmic happiness. That entails laying aside the penultimate for the ultimate, and of course learning to discern between the two in the nitty gritty of daily life.

I discovered hope, in its deep green vigor, like a surprise in my life. Just as the plants in my garden are practically doubling in size over the course of a few days, all of a sudden I realize how powerfully hope has gripped my life.

That really is quite marvelous.

In Praise of Arranged Marriages

You know, maybe having arranged marriages isn't such a bad idea after all. It worked out OK in this movie:

The way this depicts the concept, it's not exactly Tevye and his daughters in Fiddler on the Roof. People of the same faith tradition are given the opportunity for chemistry to happen while meeting each other with the intentional purpose of seeing if marriage is a possibility between them. Gosh, that just seems to cut through so much crap in our culture where "dating" is concerned. There is firmness of purpose about marriage. There is an actual rootedness of marriage in family life, rather than considering commitment and offspring as possible offshoots of romance or random sexual encounter.

Could this system grossly backfire and leave people unhappy? Sure. Does non-arranged marriage grossly backfire and leave people unhappy? I have to answer that?

I suppose the phenomenon of Christian match websites are close to rhyming with this idea, although there isn't the family involvement. Heck, most young adults don't even have any connection with any faith community, let alone having any sense of vibrant traditional connection within their own living family generations. In reality, Christians at least are too far gone for this to be workable in the West, and we are far too independent to imagine this kind of process being "healthy" or workable. This old married woman sorta thinks that's a shame.

I was thinking today about an incident I can laugh at now, 20 years later. When I was in the process of becoming a Catholic and hanging out at Catholic charismatic events in Milwaukee, I learned that a couple people I had thought of as members of my non-denominational fellowship were actually Catholics with one confused foot in both ecclesial communities. I was at a weekend conference once where one such fellow I knew was also attending. He asked me if I would have lunch with him. The ONLY thought I considered in my reply was that I was among a large group of people I didn't know, and I welcomed the chance to not eat by myself, or squished at some table with a group who all knew each other. We sat down, and the first thing he said, in a way-too-animated voice, was, "Wow, that annulment process sure is grueling! I'm so glad to have it behind me."

I think I sorta stared at him for several seconds as it slowly registered in my brain what he was telling me, and why. Other than, Dude, you're 15 years older than me. I doubt that I said anything beyond "Oh," and I'm sure the conversation went downhill from there.

Maybe it is mostly my introversion that makes socializing tiring in the first place, or maybe it is my naivete that figures I can simply have a nice friendship with a man, or maybe it is how comforting I find it for all expectations to be laid out up front, so there don't have to be surprises. All these aspects make the prospect of knowing "we are testing out our marriage potential, and here are all the objective criteria I wish to consider about you" very reassuring.

Since I'm already married, maybe I should become a matchmaker.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Let it Shake You

This morning I heard someone make a passing reference that I can't let go by without calling it forth, picking it apart, and throwing it in the garbage heap.

Ostensibly it was made in connection with the Supreme Court decisions on marriage yesterday, although it was not in a discussion of that. It was a general comment that the Christian Church has faced challenges throughout history, and some general references were made, including to today's issues of abortion and the sanctity of marriage. And the comment was "We shouldn't let it [the fact that the Church is challenged] shake our faith."

Personal note of my own spiritual formation: I'm learning to articulate a reality that has often confused me. When I heard this I had an immediate red flag, but it wasn't about the logic, nor the historical record nor any objective doctrinal or personal disagreement with the speaker, nor any imagined fault on his part. It wasn't about the words themselves, but the spirit behind the words. (I hate it, though, when I get a rock solid sure sense of something that seems that intangible. I'm still learning.)

Now I'll pick apart.

You see, the enemy of our souls wants "Don't let it shake your faith" to translate in our experience as "Don't let it upset your complacency." "Our faith" sometimes really is simply our smug self-satisfaction at how we've arranged a sense of moral and religious decency -- nothing too drastic, just an arrangement we are comfortable with. Something that serves us to get along reasonably. This way of operating doesn't have squat to do with Jesus Christ or Christianity. And the enemy of our souls loves it.

So then comes some big challenge. You were all comfortable with your "faith" and then boom: your husband is sleeping around, or your adult child enters a shocking lifestyle, or you are given six months to live, or you lose your job and your home. How do you respond? You were complacent. You were "happy." And now what? Well, you feel like the floor fell out under you, because what was under you was only your self-managed sense of decency. And it is shifting sand that the rains wash away, leaving you with everything in shambles.

Christianity, Jesus Christ active in time and space through His Church, comes to mercifully shake the hell out of us. Do let the trial shake your faith, by all means! Shaking is the only way we stop relying on our totally lame efforts to prop up our own lives with our smugness and our decency and our comforts. In His mercy Christ shakes us until all that crap can fall away. The call to follow Jesus means to build our lives on Him, not on ourselves and our own decency.

Only after we've gotten the shifting sands out of the picture am I able to build on reality, on love that is certain, on God's eternal faithfulness. Then those same winds and storms will blow -- they never leave the scene! -- but we will be secure. We are tested repeatedly and so we reaffirm repeatedly that our only security comes in how deeply we are loved by God. And with each test, we are purified.

So, let the challenges shake your faith. Let them rip your complacency to shreds and send it back to hell where it came from. And get down on your knees, or stand up with arms outstretched, whatever, and give thanks, praise and glory to God who has treated you with such great mercy as to let you be purified by the great gift of a raging storm. Stay with Him and He will absolutely prove His faithfulness.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Gideon, Picture of a Hero in the Making

This word hero has been following me around all week, and I'm not quite done thinking about it.

What I mean is, I've used the word and heard other people use the word around me in varying contexts all week. But then there was that chunk of the Office of Readings about Gideon and other judges that has really caught my attention as I ponder how heroes appear in Scripture.

The book of Judges is all about God's people Israel trying to settle into the Promised Land and the difficulties they face because the only time they awaken to their need for God is when they are getting their butts kicked by some invading tribe. If you read this analogically in the light of the New Testament, you are not far off to see this as a parable of the baptized (who are in the Promised Land) who pretty much live as they please, with some general adherence to religious practice but well mixed with worldliness, who turn to God in earnest when something bad happens to them.

What happens in this context is striking to me. This is not the moment when God pulls a Noah and wipes everyone off the face of the earth and starts fresh. No way. For a long time, if I had been God's advisor, that's exactly what I would have recommended. That is completely not God's way here. God has a plan and a purpose, and it is about bringing His children to greater maturity. Encouraging them. Helping them to grow up and into much bigger things. That's what He's always about.

In Judges 6 we get the picture of Israel being done in by Midian. They would swoop in and destroy everything. God sent them a prophet who told them, "Um, remember that God who brought you out of Egypt? Yeah, that event was sorta important, and you've forgotten about it. How 'bout you stop worshipping the Amorite gods, and remember whose you are." This message did not register with the hearts of the people. Prophets who get ignored are part one of God's plan. These are the people who remind us that our baptism makes us belong to God, and these words run off our backs like water off a duck. We don't get it.

And God knows we don't tend to get things unless we can see our salvation with our own eyes. So he sent Israel a hero. Gideon. He's that dude who's hiding in the winepress to thresh out his wheat because he's afraid of the enemy. Oh yea. Thanks God.

Now, turn on your analogical vision again, because here's something cool. What feast coincides with the wheat harvest? Pentecost! So it is Pentecost, and our hero is scared, and then an angel appears to him.

And the angel, working part two of God's plan, comes to this one man and announces to him his true identity: "The Lord is with you, mighty warrior."

And Gideon even refuses to grasp that the angel is speaking to him personally. First, of course, he doesn't even realize this is an angel. Nah, this isn't God's message coming personally to me. Just some guy stopping to chat. And Gideon moans to this supposed guy about how God has abandoned them to their enemies. It's the old they should do something about this mess routine.

So apparently it is still the angel talking then, but Scripture has it "the Lord turned to him and said." This isn't someone stopping to chat. This is a divine summons. "Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand. Am I not sending you?"

Gideon then goes on to make a lot of excuses, talk about how weak he is, and then he asks for sign after sign after sign after sign. And God works with him. He understands that Gideon's faith is weak, that his experience of God is extremely limited, and that he lives among a people who are mostly idol worshippers and who have lost contact with the true God, except to talk about Him. During the process of dickering, Gideon finally realizes he is dealing with the living God. He encounters the living God, and he is terrified. Excellent! God is getting somewhere with him.

God directed him to get rid of the idol altars of his father and his clan, which he did, but at night, because of fear. Conversion does not bring courage instantaneously. Nor does it bring great faith, because Gideon goes about his elaborate process of "laying fleeces" to make sure it really, really, really was God who appeared to him. When you start doing stuff that cuts into the lives of people around you, you sorta really want to know it's not just all in your head.

God understands all that, and works with him step by step all the way through. He teaches him how to raise an army that looks like nothing much to depend on. God wants only the most courageous people, not because he's going to send them into a violent battle, but because he's going to ask them to stand there with torches and horns and make a lot of noise and trust that the Midianites are going to kill each other with their swords, not Israel. And it happens. He doesn't want military might, He wants faith.

It's great stuff.

He lives a long life, and he has the wisdom when he is old to reject the people's notion that he or his son become king over them. Gideon tells them "The Lord will rule over you." He has learned that the only reason salvation came to Israel was because of God. Gideon was the instrument, he was the hero in the moment that the other people see, but the important work was that Gideon had become humble. He was formed by God, so he knew the only real power was Him.

This hero had made some mistakes that trailed behind him: He had tons of wives and a concubine to boot, so he had 70 sons, and they kicked up violence just as soon as he died. Sometimes God lets our mistakes stand in our lives as part of our formation.

This just seems a tremendously different picture of heroism than I've heard talked about. Heroes bring salvation to other people -- they bring Jesus, who is THE Savior. But God uses instruments. It's his way. We have an identity as Christians, through our baptism and through the gift of Pentecost in our lives. It is the living presence of Jesus the Messiah, the Savior, in our very being. Objectively, it is true. But subjectively, we need to wake up to the fact. God will patiently work with us. Being a hero, being a Christian, isn't about being a really nice, good person who does good things for other people. Rot. God doesn't make bad men good, He makes dead men live. All good things we do are done with mixed motives. That isn't anything to get scandalized about, it's just the truth. Christianity is not some NGO where nice people do good things. We are dead in our sin, just as Israel would have been dead unless God brought them through the Red Sea out of Egypt. Dead people don't do good stuff.

When we are made alive in Christ, we are called not to be nice church ladies bringing cookies to sad people, we are called to heal the sick and raise the dead. We are called to do impossible, supernatural things. And we don't even get to pick which ones we will do. We are called to adhere to God, to know who we are, to acknowledge who He is, to worship Him, to give Him our lives, and pour them out as an offering so that His life will flow through us and He will be Savior to the world.

So keep your "being nice" crap. That's why people reject Christianity, because they know they can "be nice" without God.

God calls you to be a hero, a Christian, and that means that you will feel like a fool, you will have your limits tested, you will be humiliated and humbled.... and finally, you will know with great satisfaction who you really are, and how totally amazing God is in your life, and in Himself.

Friday, June 21, 2013

An Introvert Rants

I am in a mood, and I feel the need to vent this out of my soul.

I have a friend who simply will not believe that I am an introvert, no matter how many times I explain this to her. She recently countered my claim by telling me of a woman she met who was "so introverted" that when she accidentally bumped my friend's foot, she was agitated by it for the rest of that particular social gathering. And because I tend to laugh and be bubbly around my friend, there is no way in her mind that I am like that woman.

Here's the truth. Sometimes, that laughter and bubbliness is gas going through my social accelerator. I am doing a lot of hard work. Also, sometimes, I laugh so that I don't completely die of shame.

I came across this idea in a novel I'm reading. One character had spilled her heart out to a complete stranger, and then the narrator commented on how this often leads to an embarrassment that makes the person retreat. Color me the constant contrarian, but for me it is different. See, I can relate to this effect of wanting to hide away, but it comes to me not after I pour my heart out (I've gotten quite adept at that actually -- more on that later) but after I simply encounter other people. Twenty-five years ago, this debilitated me. I would cringe for hours upon walking into a new work setting or a new, crowded classroom, or any place where people were. My reason told me I couldn't simply hide from the world (though I did as much of that as I dared without becoming agoraphobic). But I repeatedly felt like I was dying of embarrassment, just to come into a room with people in it.

In Japan I learned a phrase that is always used when entering the house of a friend or acquaintance: ojama shimasu. The meaning is "I'm sorry for bothering you." (The Japanese have standard phrases for many, many situations; some adult students of mine were surprised to learn there are no American equivalents.) Literally, however, it translates "I am doing the demon." I always thought of this phrase as "ojama imasu." You change that one syllable just a bit and it means "I am a demon," or "I am a terrible bother to you." It fit perfectly my interior sentiment about my relationship with the rest of the world. But of course I hated this feeling.

This is, actually, my natural interior disposition. I don't need to step on someone's foot to feel awkward. I do it by existing.

But one can't go about chained to one's natural inclinations. Today's reading as Mass from 2 Corinthians 12 is the one where St. Paul says he will boast of his weaknesses, for power is perfected through those weaknesses. I guess that's me. I have developed actually a weird amount of courage simply by attempting social interactions that happen naturally to others, or even things seemingly so bizarre that an extrovert might have a hard time imagining them to be remotely scary. Somewhere I told my story about how, the first time I went to a daily Mass, I desperately begged God for help with my church door phobia. That's a good example.

Honestly, I can now recognize that there is truth in the stereotype that introverts are a bit snobbish, self-absorbed, and unfriendly. At least, I recognize that there is truth to that in me. I admit it. However, I also confess that it takes me a lot of dying to self, a lot of intentional exercise of my will, harnessing of God's grace, and focus on the needs of someone other than myself to engage in friendly banter and chit-chat with people. I need to set myself to it like other might set themselves to fasting or a long silent prayer vigil. It's expensive for me. It's God's grace I'm spending, and He's lavish with His supply, but I really have to hollow myself out to hold His grace to spend it.

The other thing I run into is that I can, in the right conditions, quite freely open my soul and hand it to another. In fact, sometimes I find it almost too easy. This happened in an exchange recently with someone I knew only as a passing acquaintance. It was one of those "gee, I just cut my vein open, and, I see you have a tourniquet there" moments. My addressing the situation, intense as it was, was not one whit embarrassing to me. I felt rather it was divinely appointed. But I also know it was very moving and surfaced some "upset" for the other person involved. Those moments always make me step back in my heart. I have to remind myself that others do not have the odd personality/interior formation path I've had, and that diving head-first into the depths of one's own soul with another person is very potent stuff. Sometimes I underestimate the potency I access, and I lose sight of how quickly others' vulnerability thresholds begin. I forget how hard it is for some people to reach deep inside themselves -- probably as difficult as it has been for me to walk into that room. I confess, too, that sometimes I lack sympathy for their difficulty because I have pushed myself so hard to be more "normal."

Sometimes I think God had a weird idea to make us all so very different. We all have strengths, we all have weaknesses. I just feel like I have really, really strange ones. But now my little vent has helped me to accept that that's just the way it is.

P. S. August 23, 2013:  I learned just a week ago that the above-mentioned exchange, the divine appointment I mentioned that transpired with that acquaintance, actually had a nearly-miraculous outcome for her. I thought that maybe I had frightened her, but in fact she proceeded on to be freed from a trouble she had carried for years. Deo Gratias!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Calling of a Hero

A prayerful reflection on Judges 6, the call of Gideon.

Lord God, I pray for all the vulnerable who are looking for a hero. Let them find one.

I pray for all the heroes. Let them lay their egos in the dust. Make them the strong men and women you call them to be.

"Go in the power you have and save Israel." Lord, like Gideon, we forget and can hardly believe you are with us. Yet, you point to the power you have given and tell us to act, doing your impossible things.

Let us live Pentecost today as ordinary reality. We are Israel, receiving our awaited salvation. We are your Church, sent with salvation for all.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

God, Father of the Fatherless

It is Father's Day, and at church, on Facebook, and out and about I've been hearing about all the heroic, wonderful men who are our fathers, to whom we owe our gratitude, love and respect.

And that's good. If your father is or was your hero, I'm truly glad for you.

I love my father, who passed away 12 years ago. Love finds things to respect, and forgives those things which are not so respectable.

But I was surprised, really, when the readings at Mass today were all about forgiveness, to hear not one word spoken about one of the biggest needs screaming out from so many hearts that are known to me, at least, and that is to learn to forgive our fathers. Maybe getting gut-wrenching honesty about the men who raised us feels uncomfortable to some, but to me it seems dreadfully uncomfortable, to the point of living in complete denial, to avoid admitting that many people suffer dreadfully because of either unforgiveness toward a father, or from painful brokenness of relationship.

It doesn't really matter how the wounds happened. For me, it was a divorce, alcoholism, and mental illness trio wrapped up in grossly awful family communication dynamic. The truth is that God's love is bigger than any sin I commit, and bigger than any sin committed against me. When you open the door of your heart to Jesus Christ by asking Him to help you get rid of hatred, anger and unforgiveness, and fill your heart and your life instead with love and healing, He will do it. Test it if you don't believe me. Ask Him to show Himself present to you and walk you into healing.

I walked into healing for many years as a teen (read this story...), and at intervals in my life, God has brought me more. Just a couple years ago God helped me to understand from the inside out, through my own struggles to express love, the fact of my father's love. Being able to accept that, even after he had been in the grave 10 years, changed my heart again.

Letting go of bitterness is one very important step. But it is vitally important, even if you've never known bitterness towards a father, to ask God for that perfect love to fill you. I'm just guessing that it is possible to idolize and love a father so much, and to have received so much from him, that one doesn't think there is any need for healing love. I have a hard time imagining that. But test God out on that one, too. Ask Him to fill every place He can in you. It is not an insult to anyone, and it is not selfish to ask to be filled with God. If you see no need, then ask God to show you where it might be.

One of my favorite Scriptural descriptions of God is "father of the fatherless." God wants to be your defender, your identity, the source of all your good, and the one who gives you life. If you want that too, ask Him to be your father.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

When Not Gardening is a Sin Against Hope

In 2009 I began gardening in earnest. A new community garden opened up in my neighborhood that year, and I hopped on board and claimed my spot. I still remember the exact spring day when, with some trepidation, I first ripped up the ground and planted my first seeds. It was like I was ripping open my own soul.

Each year I've had fatalities. I've had critters come and devour baby plants. I've had disease kill things off. My own stupid mistakes killed some things. One year I allowed what I thought was an extremely fertile zucchini to strangle my broccoli and tomatoes. (It was morning glories. I felt completely dumb.)

I watched fellow gardeners in the community plot plant things and then abandon them. I felt like I was stealing, but sometimes I picked their stuff. But what I didn't pick literally rotted on the vine, and went to waste.

In 2010 my husband lost his job, and I was inspired to dig up the backyard and plant more. Then in 2011 I put in raised beds in our front yard. My kids alerted me to the fact that I was constantly talking about gardens.

And yet, I hated doing the hard work of it all. One year we had a very wet spring, and I made the mistake of tilling when it was muddy. Then it dried, and I had huge, hard clods. Just digging to plant seeds was incredibly tedious work. I was amazed that anything I planted grew at all. Sometimes I didn't water enough during drought; sometimes I let the weeds choke plants out, and sometimes things ripened too quickly and went bad before I could harvest.

Last summer we meant to have our backyard wall repaired, but it stayed just as broken as it was when we moved in. There had been another case of mistaken plant identity which had resulted in the yard being filled with pokeweed and burdock, and the man who was going to repair our wall (but never did) counseled me to leave all the weeds to help keep the soil in place. It was an ugly, chaotic mess. I looked at it every morning as I sat on my back porch to pray, sighing heavily at the work that would be involved in making it decent again.

This year, we have a new wall. Our old pine trees are out, including their stumps, and I've dug and expanded a garden, planted sunflowers just above the wall, and tomato plants along it so that, in theory, folks could walk through the alley and help themselves to some. On our first warm day as winter ebbed away, I did some extremely hard work digging out deeply embedded weed roots. Today I found the recent rains made me able to pull other big weeds with hot-knife-through-butter ease.  I've rescued about 75 volunteer tomato plants that grew from last year's rot, as well as about 18 gourd plants, and liberally spread them all around our property and in the community garden. I hope the air around the house will smell of tomatoes in August.

Literally true, every word I've written. Also, metaphor.

That's why I couldn't just yank those volunteer plants out like weeds and toss them away. When new life begs your attention every time you turn around and the ground practically jumps into your shovel and the weeds leap into your hands, I think it is a serious sin against hope not to garden.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Reflecting on "Modesty Sets Fire"

Recently I read Modesty Sets Fire by Marc Barnes/BadCatholic, and it set off several thoughts in my head that I want to now capture and look at. You can read the whole post for an overview; I'm going to pick through it for the bits that set my mind in motion.

Marc says, "I suspect we prefer monotony to metanoia" (conversion). I see this as a huge problem among Christians, one that persists mostly because we don't explicitly examine our sense of drudgery enough and because we are uncourageous wimps. Healing stories in Scripture always make me wonder how difficult that healed person's life became afterwards. You get your sight, or use of both hands, or you're cleansed of leprosy, and suddenly everything you've known is turned upside down. Being healed can really ruin you if the drudgery of same-old-same-old is something you secretly treasure.

The only way out of monotony is to really and truly feel the pain of your predicament. Pain should not cause Christians to turn away our faces and hide. Where there is felt pain, there is hope, as long as that pain is not stuffed, but allowed to be the vehicle to bring us out of ourselves for union with Christ. What else but our need prompts us to want God? We are nothing if not a gaping need for God and His forgiveness. Isn't this why classic spirituality teaches us to seek after perfect contrition? We need to feel the pain, a deep remorse for our sin (which is so much different than the devil's guilt that tells us we are worthless creatures) to even want freedom from it. Without contrition, without the pain that tells us the truth about ourselves, we walk around bored with our lives, bored with prayer, bored with God, bored with being good, bored with being evil. Bored. Flat. Dull. Not caring. Anesthetized.

All that was really just a minor introductory point.

Closer to his main point, he then goes on with this bit from the Catechism about modesty making it possible to resist fashions. Of course that means more than popular clothing styles, although he uses that to illustrate his intended point.

His main point isn't mine, really, but let me lay out three items for closer examination. Number one, the positive definition of modesty:

Modesty is wholeness; integration; a harmony between body and soul; the outward revelation of our inward subjectivity through the presentation and action of the body, in which we express to the world the inexpressible fact of our personality, and by which we have the faith necessary to believe in the subjectivity and personality of every human on the planet...
And that is simply true. Two:

I believe that modesty empowers us to act, and with the ability to act comes the ability and the impetus to resist the allurements of fashion.
And three, he talks about how passivity is the province of objects, and action is the province of subjects.

All right. This is where all my synapses started shooting fireworks.

I am always trying to understand what God is teaching me, and stringing these particular thoughts together just now is like stopping on my hike up the mountain and taking in a great view. Integration, modesty, empowerment, subjectivity, action... All of these aspects of truth and conversion have been percolating in my life in recent years. That word empowerment seems to be my word of the month, actually. Ok, so what of it.

Forget, please, equating modesty with baggy clothes, or with clothes at all. Just forget it. Modesty is this inner, spiritual quality. When it is present, it manifests, of course, but like all spiritual qualities, when it is not there, it can also be aped. I am undecided on whether aping is a good thing; perhaps it depends on how malleable we are in God's hands, how willing we are to be taught that the good we think we are doing is really worthless straw that needs to be traded for real virtue. (Or might we repent more quickly if we are the honestly wicked type?)

Certainly we are often unaware that we are aping -- externally copying what we think is morally upright, good, and holy behavior. As we progress through conversion, we go from whatever coping mechanisms we know for survival, to behavior that gets us accepted by others, to behavior that seems to fit a holy ideal, to that which God teaches us fits our own soul for the praise and glory of His name, for our good and the good of all His holy church.

I have journeyed this route, too. In certain aspects of my life I have been more scared to be taught by God than in others. I have been rather terrified, frankly, of God addressing my sexuality, of His bringing a harmony there between my body and soul, of allow Him to allow me to express my whole personality, and to act as a free subject. I have been terrified of the healing that would turn my world upside down. It's always the fear of the unknown, of course, and of that which one is unwilling to explicitly examine. It's the secretly-treasured prison of drudgery.

But I have long held a "blank check" policy with God; He is granted a free hand in my life, period. And He's taken me up on it.

He knows me far more deeply than I know myself, and He has also been intricate, patient, loving, and extremely clever in the ways He goes about leading me to freedom. I've had to walk blind because if I would have seen where I was going to end up, I would have bolted.

It is super tricky to be an adult married woman, edging up on being so-called middle aged, and getting some of this stuff for the first time. Big internal changes are one thing for a youngin, but it dawned on me recently that mismanaged big internal changes about modesty are one reason people my age end up divorcing. Yikes.

The conversion from experiencing oneself as an object to experiencing oneself as a subject is profound and powerful, like dynamite. And it highlights how and why Christian life is not just about me & Jesus. We need the Church, we need connection, commitment, belonging and protection in the Body of Christ when our understanding of ourselves starts getting blown apart. But we shouldn't get afraid of God's power, because when we hang in there with Him, we are healed, not left devastated.

These things are difficult for me to address, but it is true that since my teen years I have become accustomed to men staring at me, talking dirty and stupid around me, or getting sort of puppy-dogish or weirdly attentive. Through the years I've dealt with this as well as I could, which wasn't very well, and it involved a lot of shutting out. A lot of accepting, without thinking about it, that I was an object to which degradation was simply to happen. That was actually a tad more comforting than thinking that I was some kind of slime that caused men to be bad. There were definite comfort advantages for me in not examining this too closely.

Then I met... well, no, I won't use his name. God had work to do, and His choice of instrument and His ways scared me. But God taught me through this good man that I am a subject, not an object. God slowly removed the "object" knots around me (which had grown slack from years of not being yanked on as much) and had me practice the harmony, expression and wholeness of modesty born from being a somebody instead of a thing. Then when the time was right, he removed my mentor and set me off without the training wheels. Every step in the whole process I was either scared, angry, or both. But the one thing that has kept my life on even keel is to say every day to Jesus Christ in the midst of His Church, Jezu ufam tobje: Jesus, I trust in You.

Stopping to behold this view on the mountain humbles me, or at least it had better. I resist God, and I often think my life is on the brink of disaster when really He is blessing me. I cry over dropping my favorite stone when God is trying to fit me for a crown. I am so intent on my pleasures, and God is so intent on my happiness. I am silly.

Surviving conversion requires far more courage than one might think, says St. Teresa of Avila. But emerging on the far side of a conversion journey, becoming the one God created one to be (onion journey though it always is), one is rendered empowered. Free to act, to create, in the image of God. As St. Catherine of Siena said (and Marc quotes) "Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire!" This is where Jesus was fishing when He said "Ask whatever you will in my name, and I will do it." May I have the strength to keep going in this way.

I used to think being a Christian made me a sheep, but it occurs to me now that the virtue of modesty — and of chastity to which it is ordered — is the revolution against passivity, and will prepare my arms for battle, to burn down and build up what I will.

Read Marc's whole article at

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

I know there are a couple of you whose only contact with me these days is this blog, so I thought (before I go to posting other riveting thoughts) I should announce that I am indeed NOT facing lymphoma or any other major health crisis of the sort.

But, please do offer a prayer for our friend Eric, a father of many children (all minors), who was in fact recently diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer.

Thank you.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Been Realizing so Much....

Every season of my life seems to have its weirdness, but the difference with the current season is that it's the kind of thing that I can and do talk about freely with lots of people. Health issues are like that. Emotional, spiritual and relational issues are not like that. So in a way, this is a great relief, because I can ask tons of folks to pray for me and tell them why, and they do.

Perhaps it is precisely because of all the prayers being offered for me that I find myself surrounded by new ways, new realizations, new grace. I need to try to catalog these. (Look up at the blog title -- Naru Hodo; I write, therefore I understand. That's the deal now.)

(In no particular order.) I can articulate to myself and to others, "I need to talk about this. Listen to me on this point for a bit." See, even as I'm writing that it's like seeing a new piece of furniture in my living room and wondering where it came from.

I realize that part of my loving relationship with others is to correct or direct them when they don't know something, and I have a better idea of it. I can actually do that as an expression of love, and not of impatience, grumpiness, arrogance, blame or any of the other negatives that I always felt like directing others required or elicited. I realize that I am actually grossly at fault when it is my place to direct or correct someone, and I don't do it.

I realize that God asks of me holy indifference. My life was created by Him, and exists enveloped in His love for me to serve, working with Him in His plan. Because it is His plan, I do not understand everything as we go along. I have very strong preferences for how I would like some things to be. But God asks me to trust Him to the degree that I will leave everything in His hand and allow the choice of directive to be His. And that I refrain from bitterness when that involves letting go of control of the things that strike at my dearest preferences. And strike He does. (He has no problem correcting and directing me, and He is all love. He calls me to be the same. See above.)

I realize that every piece of the service entailed in my daily duty is a precious way for me to participate in working for the salvation of souls. When I pick up the laundry basket and carry it up the stairs because it is part of what is before me to do, and I choose that over sitting down and being introspective and brooding (and calling it 'contemplative'), that action of love is an offering that can be rendered prayer for love and grace to enter someone's life. The external works don't matter as much as the disposition and the relationship with God, so that love is lived.

I realize that when I open my mouth to speak about God, I am always telling stories. I don't mean parables, I mean giving testimony to what God has done in my life. I don't think about doing it or calculate it. It's just what comes out. Instinctively, it seems, this is what I have to tell people. And I guess this is why I write stuff here, because it gives me practice in forming my thoughts.

I realize that illness is about far more than illness. I'm not even sure I'm "sick," and I'm certainly undergoing no significant physical suffering. Because I've always been a healthy young punk with a side of misanthropic past, I've often thought that people who talked about their illnesses were just moaners, basically. Maybe this is me coming of age. Maybe this is me learning that suffering makes people vulnerable, which in turn means that the moment is ripe for them to reach out for God's help. Who, then will be the instrument ready, not to fill them with pep talks or worry with them or complain about doctors with them, but to demonstrate the care and love of Christ, and to look with them, calmly, into pain and fear and show them that Jesus gives peace? But not the obnoxious peace that is really just anesthesia. The peace that acknowledges the terror of being made weak, of requiring others to pick up our slack, of enduring uncertainty, of relinquishing control.

So, while the one doctor finally decides whether I need surgery, whether the lingering chance of cancer has any validity at all, and while I try to discern what to do about the fact that no one is addressing the weirdest question my body is posing, I realize I am really blessed with the chance to work out, somewhat openly, other issues that have woven their way into my life, starting back even more than a decade. A long, long time ago I hit upon an analogy for how my life felt: a spider web. The spider does one circle around, then casts a thread and goes to a new level. Same pattern, but always slightly bigger dimensions. And that "casting out" part... you know, I'm not really sure how they do it. How do they launch out into the next thing, when technically they are hanging out in space? It all boils down to building on what came before. I have been building on what came before like this, or aware of doing it, at least, for about 25 years. Most of it has been interior stuff that hasn't been appropriate to talk about on a public scale. There's something almost giddy for me in having something else going on, that people will ask me "Is anything new happening?" and I can tell them. I can't think of a single life lesson I've gone through that is like this -- even the medical issues of infertility are not the sort of thing one can do that with, aside from a support group.

Anyway, blah blah blah, I am grateful to God. I truly am. He only gives good things, even with the pain entailed. I know how deeply loved I am, and I know that eternity is what this life is all about.