Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Do Pregnancy Complaints Rip Your Heart Out?

I have written at length in the past about the unspoken pain many women carry due to infertility. I lived there for five years. Women who are in the grips of such pain rarely speak out about it, except perhaps to others they know who have experienced the same pain and therefore can understand. It can be an all-consuming pain, and all-consuming pains are very difficult to speak about at all, let alone objectively, to try to explain it to someone to whom it is foreign.

But the other day I startled myself a little by finding myself in a 180° situation while being party to a conversation about a certain pregnancy. In that moment I pictured right where I had been, in the Children's department of the library, with my toddler foster son. It was some "bring your kids to play and learn" gathering, and it was the two of us with two other women and their children. One of the women was pregnant. And she was complaining.

At the time I had never experienced pregnancy, and I wanted to with all my heart. Anyone who complained about giving life was branded in my book as an ungrateful, selfish lout.

So a decade later, seeing the scene in my mind, I was startled to realize I've learned a few things since then. I thought I should write a blog post to the misery-gripped infertile woman I was back then. And, to anyone else it might help.

You hear her say: "I've already gained so much weight."
What it hurts her too much to say: I've always felt so ugly. God, I hate myself.

You hear her say: "I'm gonna make my husband pay for doing this to me!"
What it hurts her too much to say: The last time I was pregnant he started going to a prostitute. He doesn't know I know, and I'm too devastated to bring it up.

You hear her say: "What am I gonna do with another baby?"
What it hurts her too much to say: Why should a horrible woman like me, that no one could really love, bring an innocent child into this world? I'll miss her up too badly.

You hear her say: "Ugh! All those doctor appointments."
What it hurts her too much to say: My last child miscarried/was stillborn/had a serious birth defect/was sick and I'm terrified it will happen again.

You hear her say: "I can't stand feeling sick!"
What it hurts her too much to say: I'm getting pressure to abort this baby, too.

My dear infertile sister, the next time you cringe or rage at the complaints of a woman about her pregnancy, consider that she, too, might just know pain that is too profound for her to face and to put into honest words. Yes, her words hurt and wound you. Just remember the maxim that hurting people hurt people. When you hear it, open your heart, even silently, and offer her your love. Ask God to offer His love to her through you. And guess what? When you do that, you do the maternal thing.

You exercise spiritual maternity.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Evangelical Counsel of Obedience, for Laity

And here we are at the last of the three evangelical counsels, obedience, and what I have learned about it.

I am very aware that my thoughts often feel backwards to me when I compare myself with the standard line -- about anything, really. What I mean is that if myself and 99 other people played word association, I might be with only one or two other people in relating what seems like an obvious connection between concept A and concept B. That's just how my brain works. And of course, my observations are always rooted in my own unique history.

My own unique history when it comes to obedience is that my heart has been searching all my life for someone who can explain life to me, and by that I mean how to live it. I told this story awhile back about the woman who identified that I had "such a submissive spirit." I wrote that six years ago, and I still have no concept at all how to explain what happened there, but I will tell you it is true. There is something in me that has always longed to find a suitable home for that submissive spirit of mine. And my search has taught me something.

You might think that a submissive spirit would bow down readily before anyone willing to dominate it. But in truth, a submissive spirit recognizes quickly the incapacity for authority that is inherent in domination. Did I just lose you with those statements? Maybe I'd better back up and define my terms.

I am defining "submissive" here as one who wants to say Yes, loudly, strongly, boldly, to what is right, true and good. That means to assent, to believe, but also to act. To want those things. I have always wanted these things. My difficulty came in despairing of ever finding them, especially because I realized that the Right, the True, and the Good are not doctrines you can believe, but a way you live. It seems that for  years, all I found was the compromised, the half truth, and the mediocre.

Domineering types seem to be strong, and seem to have something solid to say about what is right, true, and good, but there's always a sort of red flag, an invisible, spiritual one, that I see flying around them, and as courage allows, I have rejected what they say, even while being drawn to how they say it (namely, with strength). There's always something in a domineering, authoritative person that demands a surrender of one's personal freedom to them. And why would I want to give my personal freedom to another person who is just like me?

And I think that a lot of people figure that when you talk about obedience to the Church, or in the Church, it can only mean that kind of being dominated.

But if you accept that there is a God, then there is another option.

That option would be a submission, an obedience to Being who is not just like me, which gives the deepest freedom humanly possible.

And that option is what my soul has been searching for all my life.

Here's what the OCDS Constitutions have to say about obedience:

The promise of obedience is a pledge to live open to the will of God, “in whom we live and move and have our being” (Ac 17:28) imitating Christ who accepted the Father’s will and was “obedient unto death, death on a cross” (Ph 2:8). The promise of obedience is an exercise of faith leading to the search for God’s will in the events and challenges in society and our own personal life. For this reason the Secular Carmelite freely cooperates with those who have responsibility for guiding the community and the Order in discerning and accepting God’s ways: the Community’s Council, the Provincial and the General.
To me it is a mistake, and a big one, to think of obedience as looking to a legitimate authority, even to God, for a set of parameters inside which I will carefully stay. It is not, of course, that I am looking to break through boundaries reason sets in place. That would be, well, unreasonable! But I prefer to think of obedience as the open sky, into which I am committed to fly on the wings God has granted me. God has desires that are as infinite as His love, and how deep and broad and wide His desires for me must be. What dreams and plans He must treasure as He looks at my life with its potential. Obedience is to say yes to God's will, His desires, His dreams for me, and through me for this world. It is to fly with all the strength I can muster. It is to delve into His Word, to know His will, to embrace it with all I am, and live it with my full passion, in the concrete reality before me daily.

His will for me is love and mercy itself. To submit to His will is to unite myself with His love and mercy, thereby becoming my free and genuine self.  God alone is big enough for me to give myself to in this way.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

The Evangelical Counsel of Chastity, for Laity

Chastity is the love of God flowing through me, in my relationship to another human being. Chastity is the love of God flowing freely, overcoming obstacles, blockages and impediments of fear, pride and selfishness. Chastity is dynamic; it is meant to be grown with, and grown into. There is a drawing element of this dynamic, because relationships between people are the normative means by which God draws the Church together to thrive and grow. Chastity is directly linked to death, that is, the gospel death to self that leads to the fullest life possible, for ourselves, and for all.

This is what God has been teaching me for the last several years.

And learning it has been very interesting to say the least.

Chastity is not about a list of sexual don'ts. Moral law, and simply reason, tell us that. Our culture has lost a sense of that, and I think it is one of the effects of losing our reason that we have to talk about matters we can arrive at by reason and make religious talk out of it. (I wrote a post about that called Natural Law, Marriage, and the Normality of Ignorance.)

Note, of course, that chastity and celibacy are not synonymous. 

Chastity is a positive thing; it is about what we do. There is a sexual dimension to chastity, because being male or female impacts everything we are and do and all of our relationships. Chastity is simply relating with other people with the full extent of who we are.

Here's what the Secular Carmelite Constitutions have to say about chastity:

The promise of chastity reinforces the commitment to love God above all else, and to love others with the love God has for them. In this promise the Secular Carmelite seeks the freedom to love God and neighbour unselfishly giving witness to the divine intimacy promised by the beatitude “blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8). The promise of chastity is a commitment to Christian love in its personal and social dimensions in order to create authentic community in the world. By this promise the Secular Carmelite also expresses the conscious desire to respect each person as required by God’s law and one’s state of life, as a single person or married or widowed. This promise does not prevent a change in state of life.

The truth of this has been quite an ordeal for me to learn. Chastity has by no means come naturally to me. And I don't mean that I have had a particularly sordid past. In fact, considering the weird men I've known, my guardian angel must have some incredible muscle. Chastity has come hard for me because of being wounded with the loss of significant relationships at a young age. To prevent more hurt, I locked myself away. The only thing that flowed out of me was my hurt. The love God had made available to me in my baptism, I let sit. I clung tight to fear, to pride, to selfishness.

And I've written a lot about all those stories in this blog in the past. Here I want to write about what I've learned about chastity.

The beginning for me was realizing that I should not have to "pay a price" to gain friends. In other words, I realized purposefully being a fake to feel like I was fitting in or gaining a desired person's approval, was bad. The love of God is not flowing freely from one who is stifling or sacrificing one's soul to be liked.

I learned that the only way to learn to love other people is to trust deeply in God. To be open to give love means to be open to all manner of hurt from others, and of seeing my own limitations and sin. The way that none of this is devastating is to trust that God is Love. He is the cause of the love that flows through us, and His love is more powerful, more abundant than hurt or sin. Because I have so misunderstood God's love at times and have been so unwilling to feel the pain associated with it, I have begged God to take a spiritual power-washer and blast it out of me. But, no, He didn't. Instead He showed me that this love is my salvation, even when it hurts. Knowing that it hurts to love means getting a peak into understanding God's heart, who loves us with unimaginable passion, and who waits, longing for hearts who forget Him.

I have learned, too, that chaste love flowing through us reminds us of death. God's love shared, especially reciprocated, creates a bond. Bonds are what make us cry at funerals, or when friends leave, or when sickness slowly carries one away. Sometimes when I open my heart to another, I am very aware that in so doing I am creating another bucket of tears I will cry when we part. But that does not stop me. It can't -- not if this is how God builds His kingdom to which I have committed my life, and how we draws me and those other souls together into that kingdom where nothing is ever lost. This is the love that was manifest in Acts and in Paul's writings. Think of Acts chapter 20, where Paul is at Miletus telling the believers they won't ever see him again. It says: "They were all weeping loudly as they threw their arms around Paul and kissed him, for they were deeply distressed that he had said that they would never see his face again. Then they escorted him to the ship." This is kingdom-building chastity.

The evangelical counsels are all about pointing to heaven. Chastity sure does it for me. There really is no reason for love to exist if there is no God, and I know the only way I could have learned to love anyone is by supernatural intervention. I also know that no love born of God ends here on earth.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

The Evangelical Counsel of Poverty, for Laity

As I mentioned in my post-of-intention, I have been contemplating what living the evangelical counsels actually entails for a lay person. No, not really "for a lay person," but for me. I've been mulling over what the Lord has been teaching me about poverty, chastity, and obedience. Of course, He seems to teach me most things without my realizing what it is about until much later when I get a word to package the lesson in, and I say .... (guess what).... naru hodo!

And then I often find much later, when I am in a more practical stage of life where I am actually required to make choices and decisions based on the lessons I have been taught, that I read something I wrote, and I suddenly realize it was meant to be carried out very concretely, not just in the realm of "having wisdom." Sometimes that's a bit of a bummer... But it is then valuable to realize that pretty words have all their value in being applied.

So, yeah, that's my warm up for why I'm writing this.

Here's what the OCDS Constitutions have to say about poverty:

By the promise of poverty the Secular Carmelite expresses the desire to live in accordance with the Gospel and its values. In evangelical poverty there is a wealth of generosity, self-denial, and interior liberty and a dependence on Him who “Though rich, yet for our sake, became poor” (2 Co 8:9), and who “emptied Himself” (Ph 2:7), to be at the service of His brothers and sisters. The promise of poverty seeks an evangelical use of the goods of this world and of personal talents, as well as the exercise of personal responsibilities in society, in family, and work, confidently placing all in the hands of God. It also implies a commitment to the cause of justice so that the world itself responds to God’s plan. In combination with these, evangelical poverty recognizes personal limitations and surrenders them to God with confidence in His goodness and fidelity.
Now, here's what I have been learning.

I've always had a thin line to walk about this business of denying oneself, and of poverty of spirit. I think that is because to counter each of the evangelical counsels, the devil throws out a different pack a lies to distort God's image and make Him look hateful. By desiring us to have poverty of spirit God is not communicating You are nothing, but rather You are mine. And that is not in some violently possessive way. In being God's, we are made completely free -- not possessed by things or goods.

One of my biggest struggles has been poverty in my thinking. I can remember right where I was sitting when the Lord impressed on me that I had a big need to meditate more on Scripture. Actually, that message came through to me more than once. At first I tried just randomly reading a book of Scripture, but soon drifted away from that. Slowly I moved back towards praying the Liturgy of the Hours, which I've done in fits and starts since the day I decided to become a Catholic. I discovered that the more I did that, the more my meditation started picking up steam. Now I simply can't believe how beautiful and packed with meaning it is (because I remember how boring it felt when I first started).

But my point is there that it is very natural for me to ruminate and reason and just sit and think (sometimes quite unreasonably!). Poverty of spirit in terms of thinking, for me means allowing the Word of God to so fill my mind that when I ponder a situation or person or event, I can let Him infill my own thoughts, rather than being carried away simply by my inclinations, my reactions, my emotions, my mood, or the state of my indigestion.

And so with any good or gift that comes to me. I can receive it, not accepting lies about it or worrying or getting defensive over attacks on the said good, but I hold it in an open hand, offering it. I place it entirely in the presence/at the disposal of God. If I have it, that's good. If I don't have it, that's good too. It is my place to make anything I am or have available to God. It is God's action to create the dynamic that makes for poverty of spirit. He will wedge one into the place where one's offering turns into a sacrifice.

For me this has happened when I have been in the midst of change I completely did not understand. My own thoughts turning over events only found pain. In those moments, turning to Scripture to delve into God's thoughts, to repeat His promises, His commands, the history of how He interacted with His people -- all this sunk down into the crevasses formed by my own soul splitting open. In this way, God was able to float out more things in me that bore no resemblance to Him. It stung, like death always does. Sometimes we really do prefer the general anesthesia of our dullness to either real life or real death. But along with that sting of death, one finds oneself looking into the face of the Savior, the Redeemer, the One with all the power, the One who speaks those powerful words that seem at the time to only have terrible power. We know that He holds in His hands all that we lack. And we only feel that lack. But we know that as long as we are with Him, He has all we need. If we trust, we know that at the right time it will be ours.

That is the blessed state of poverty: feeling our lack keenly, but knowing we are with the One who holds all we need. This is the state of the anawim, or Mary who rejoices in God her Savior who has done to her great things. Poor, yet possessing everything, because He is Everything.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Eventually, I Will Write About....

It seems that blogging has been happening only in my mind, lately. Between the new intensity of the school year starting (yeah, I've succumbed to the regular old notion of a school year) and limited quiet time to think with a keyboard at my fingers, I just haven't gotten to type much of anything.

However, I do have a writing intention.

Even though I am not far enough along in my Carmelite formation to be preparing for taking the promises, due to being in two different formation sessions I have been somewhat prematurely reading the Constitutions (which I will only officially receive late next month). In these Constitutions is discussion of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. As I meditate on these I am quite blown away to realize that in the midst of what sometimes just looked like a horrendous mess of a life, God has actually been teaching me, coaching me, preparing me, to understand and live these. As a lay person, of course.

It just seems that there isn't a great deal of discussion of what these counsels look like for anyone but nuns, sisters, friars and priests. What about a married laywoman?

So my plan is to bat around what God has been teaching me, to try to wrestle it into words.