29 October 2005

Faith, reason and passion

Steven Riddle over at Flos Carmeli writes better than I ever could about The Intellect and the Church. And his thoughts lead me to write out my own.

For me, the Catholic Church's attraction was always as an avenue to communion of all kinds. Historically, as a Roman Catholic, you were connected in a very real way to a world far beyond that of the senses. I loved being able to choose a patron saint to whom I could pray in the conviction that she is alive and able to hear my prayers, guide my thought spiritually as well as through her writings, and able to stand before God on my behalf. The saint didn't replace Jesus any more than one's older sister replaced one's parents. One's sister could provide guidance and shelter in addition to the parents, and was present in one's life because of the parents. It's called "family"... The Rosary wasn't some dry exercise; even in moments when it's hard to pray, it's like going through the photo album of my adoptive Holy Family. And Communion-! Of course, when the tabernacle is hidden, the liturgy is unrecognizable, and the words of the Mass are twisted and altered on the fly by some dude in a tacky looking robe, I pray He's not where the catechism says He is, for the sake of those schooled in indifference, even sacrilege. (I refuse to get into particulars, but, as with obscenity, I know it when I see it.)

"The Spirit of Vatican II" outlawed all of what brought me into the church. Saints became mere "models," the Rosary was pooh-poohed as "pietistic," and we all know what Cardinal Mahony thinks about kneeling during the holiest moment in a human being's life. I believe in God, not in the Church, which I now regard with deep suspicion. I am a recovering child of an alcoholic and I know the signs of toxic dysfunction, and am not going to be sucked into that morass again. I have done with the church as I did in my human family situation: I have detached in love.

In attempting to deconstruct the faith and isolate the "faith impulse" from the warp and woof of the compleat human being, the hijackers of Vatican II controverted the natural, overflowing emotion which was Catholicism's strength. To say that Catholics never questioned whether or not they should attend Mass because they accepted everything the hierarchy told them is grossly insulting and shows a lack of understanding. Lots of Catholics went to church because there was something there which they could not get anywhere else... to be specific, some One.

To explain, I will start by agreeing with Steven that "The reason is a good and powerful gatekeeper. It is necessary, right, just, and required that we cultivate it to the best of our ability." I have no doubt there's a lot of overlap between the folks who brought us "the Song of Songs is only an allegory" and those who recoiled at the overflowing emotions some people, who were convinced that what Jesus said in John 6 is what He meant, displayed in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Certain clear abuses aside, most of the objections were simply that it wasn't "seemly." One is reminded of Michal sneering at David in 2 Samuel 6 for emotionally dancing before the ark of the Lord. But here's the thing: if Jesus' words in John 6 are true, and, by reasoning and logic you accept them as such, to behave uncaringly or unemotionally in the presence of that mystery is as unnatural as a mother saying, "I love my child" as an intellectual statement, while carefully refusing to be moved by its cries and smiles.

If Jesus was speaking allegorically, the traditional Latin Mass is weird idolatry. If Jesus meant what He said, then the "highest" Mass, with ranks of choirs and the best incense and the finest gold on the altar in the most exquisitely beautiful church is but a shabby attempt to show what we feel for Him in His sacramental presence. It is the "worship experience" approach, focused on our feelings rather than on God, which ends up in sterile, concrete churches and sloppy guitar "messes," with the wafer treated with no more dignity and reverence than a saltine.

The "Spirit of Vatican II" is so often cited as the reason for downplaying the deep wordless emotional impact of religious art, denying meaning to soaring naves and staggeringly beautiful reredos. All that kind of thing is taught to be pious emotional treacle which is dangerous to the faith. Then, having deconstructed it all down to verbal concepts, it builds back the superficial emotionalism of "celebration," which is about "community" and "relationship" instead of: that's Jesus on the altar.

When we lose our sense of emotion in connection with our faith, it loses any personal value beyond intellectual assent. When we deny that the Song of Songs can describe the beauty of love between a man and a woman, and that the rapture of adult discovery and union is intended to point directly to the love of God for His Church, a type of His pursuit of her and delight in her and desire to give her all she needs to abundantly reproduce communities which show at once the effects of the loving union between God and His image - the indelible, ineffable mystery of that - we are simply closing the door on Him and what He offers to make us truly human. When the soul glimpses Jesus as John did, it is no leap to breathe the prayer, "Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat its choicest fruits." Jesus made the garden of the soul, and made it to bear fruit through His love and leading and tender care. He has every right to delight in the good results of His work. However, when we share ourselves with Him, we always end up fed. He gives us His own self via what happened in John 6 and the sacrifice at Calvary. That meditation has nourished and ravished many a soul. St. Teresa of Avila - a doctor of the Church, and one of three women to be given that extremely significant title - experienced something like this, and Bernini faithfully interpreted it in ways which made the "it's only an allegory" crowd very uncomfortable (and likely still do).

I'm no prophet, and most definitely no saint, but I just have this feeling that He wishes we'd quit trying to explain staggering mysteries with mealy-mouthed pronouncements and instead fall to our knees in silent contemplation. God is such an ardent lover, yet, these days, we act as prudish towards love as we used to towards sex. Don't you think He wishes we'd quit playing with the equipment and start thinking about what it all means?

Update: I have pruned this considerably, and here link a Very Good explanation of the Mass, written by Teresa. H/T the Anchoress.

The gift of change

My life might be about to change.

I am tempted to do nothing in anticipation, in case it does not happen.

Am I being called to show some faith, instead?
Faith that God wants me to be happy and whole.
Faith in the one whose own changes will cause mine.
Faith in myself, that I can cope with a new life.
I had some very good advice about this prospect last week. Some of it is very good. Some of it, I must ignore. Life is too short.

There is prudence, which is necessary, and cowardice, which is not.

Most of all, there has to be the willingness to accept joy when it is given... after so many attempts by God to give the gift, finally just - letting Him. Not fighting it any more, or explaining it away, or reasoning why it shouldn't happen, or making long lists of all that could go wrong, or dreaming up ways in which to have it but not really.

Pray for me that I will accept God's gift in the way and the time of His will.

A useful thought

Be who you are and say what you feel, because people who mind don't matter, and people who matter, don't mind.

Good morning!

I have waked up this morning - a Saturday - without a trace of a migraine. This is the first Saturday in a month that I can say that. I feel like one of the Lord's little birds, chirping and hopping from branch to branch.

It is a gift to be able to do the ordinary things without thinking about it: unload the dishwasher, load the washing machine, feel hungry and enjoy a good breakfast. For the last two Saturdays, any of the foregoing were out of the question.

Even for my moments of indisposition, I am grateful; they help me know when to give thanks for ordinary, undeserved blessings.

23 October 2005

My dear Bear is found!

I put his dish out on the porch with water in it and sadly went to bed. And as I walked into the bedroom - I stopped cold.

The door to the bathroom was shut.

I never shut that door.

My first thought was - who's been in the house?!

But, as I opened the door, there he was: Bear shut himself in accidentally, presumably while trying to get comfy for a nap.


Even though I'd called him in the house earlier, I didn't hear anything ... and he's such a zen dog, he didn't bark.

I gave him a good dinner, then we went for a walk through the quiet, mostly tucked-in neighborhood. And I shall take that as a reprieve and a signal and everything else, and get that fence repaired a.s.a.p.


I feel rather silly ("you didn't remember you let him back in?") but I don't care. I have my dear companion and watchdog back, shedding all over the house - and I wouldn't have it any other way.

My prayers for those who are searching for their lost companion animals.

My dear Bear is missing

Recriminations and remorse: the fence is low on one side of the house since I had the bougainvillea assassinated. Bear discovered that he could get out of the yard. He did it again this morning. I brought him back, and we stayed together all day. Then, this afternoon, he wanted to go out, and I - not thinking - let him. When I came to some hours later - huh? where's - oh no!

I've been out driving around, but no sign of him. We're near the foothills; he could be anywhere, and miles away by now.

He is reasonably street smart, and he's familiar with the area. I hope he stays off the roads. He is in God's sight and care. Your prayers would be appreciated.

Wise words for husbands

Adrian Warnock quoted and excerpted some of an article by John Piper, which Curt then linked to over at the Happy Husband, and now it's here:

Here I am speaking directly to men who are husbands and leaders. Paul said in Ephesians 5:25, "Husbands, love your wives!" Love her! Love her! What does it profit a man if he gains a great following and lose his wife? What have we led people to if they see that it leads us to divorce? What we need today are leaders who are great lovers. Husbands who write poems for their wives and sing songs to their wives and buy flowers for their wives for no reason at all except that they love them. We need leaders who know that they should take a day alone with their wives every now and then; leaders who do not fall into the habit of deriding and putting their wives down, especially with careless little asides in public; leaders who speak well of their wives in public and complement them spontaneously when they are alone; leaders who touch her tenderly at other times besides when they are in bed. One of the greatest temptations of a busy leader is to begin to treat his wife as a kind of sex object. It starts to manifest itself when the only time he ever kisses her passionately or touches her tenderly is when he's trying to allure her into bed. It is a tragic thing when a wife becomes a mannequin for masturbation. Learn what her delights are and bring her to the fullest experience of sexual climax. Talk with her and study her desires. Look her in the eye when you talk to her. Put down the paper and turn off the television. Open the door for her. Help her with the dishes. Throw her a party. LOVE HER! LOVE HER! If you don't, all your success as a leader will very likely explode in failure at home.

I was going to write something snarky and smart, but I can't joke about it. Not yet. Fortunately, there is someone who always listens, who gives his own self as food for the soul, and who specializes in opening doors.

For your Maker is your husband,
the Lord of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
the God of the whole earth he is called.
For the Lord has called you
like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit,
like a wife of youth when she is cast off,
says your God.
For a brief moment I forsook you,
but with great compassion I will gather you,
In overflowing wrath for a moment
I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have
compassion on you,
says the Lord, your Redeemer
-Isaiah 54:5-8

Which chord are you?

MAJOR THIRD. You fill in the hollowness...you are
the emotion in the chord. You want life to be
rich and full for yourself and everyone around
you. Beloved by Classical and Romantic
composers alike, you just want peace and
tranquility for all mankind. Unfortunately,
most of the post-World-War II composers hate
you, but you tend to think that most music
since 1945 is crap, anyways.

What musical interval are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

(found at This is Life)

I can be happy

Back in late 1991, a dear friend of mine told me about his odyssey out of a nightmarish situation, and what an epiphany it was to realize that, indeed, he could be happy. I was so stuck in my own tough place at that time that I couldn't even fully appreciate what he was saying. I'm beginning to, now.
"Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,... pray for those who abuse you... if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same... but love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful." - Luke 27ff

I have always read that passage as meaning that my life doesn't count before God unless I am around people who make it hard for me to love them by speaking hatefully and abusing me. I felt it was lazy and cowardly to want to be with anyone who loves me and does good to me. Today, I realized that is not what it means, at all. Enemies and people who hate should be rare in one's life; but, if they turn up, Jesus is saying that one should care for them as He does.

I saw it that way because it was juxtaposed with another reading, from Matthew 9:9-13. It's the one where Matthew was called. He was despised by the Jews because he was a tax collector, seen as working against his fellow citizens by implementing the horrible tax laws of the Romans; but Jesus said to him, "Follow me."

The Pharisees came by and sneered at Jesus for eating with the tax collectors and sinners. Jesus said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.' For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."

"I desire mercy and not sacrifice" is from Hosea 6:6. I didn't get it, myself, but this morning the light broke through. God wants us to give from our storehouse of good, whatever that 'good' might be; He does not want us to sacrifice the good He has given us for our own. By staying with people who were deliberately cruel and mean to me, I was sacrificing the possibility of good in my life. God was not asking me to give up my happiness to their mean-spirited behaviour. He just wants me to be ready to show mercy from my happiness, to share peace and joy.

It has always been difficult for me to trust that God wants me to be happy. I've always felt that happiness or joy were very dangerous, worthless emotions, lulling one into forgetting the "realities," which would happen at any time to rob one of all joy and freedom and send one's spirits crashing down. It's always seemed wiser to stay anxious and on the lookout for disaster than to allow oneself to relax and so be caught unprepared.

The trouble with that outlook is, without joy and peace in one's heart, one will certainly be unprepared to handle the inevitable shocks and distress of life.

The same kind of thought seemed to be present when the disciples complained as a woman poured very expensive ointment on Jesus' head during a visit. "Why this waste? This ointment might have been sold for a large sum, and given to the poor." But Jesus said to them, "Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me." The disciples were saying what I lived by for so many years: never indulge oneself in any way; it's wrong. People are depending upon you not to waste a thing and never to be happy, because to be happy when others are suffering is selfish and cruel. Well, of course, you can't keep that up without becoming terribly depressed. And, there again, God isn't asking for us to do without the comforts and joys He provides, but to enjoy them like children who are given good things by their Father. We are allowed to be happy. When we hurt ourselves ostensibly to prevent the deprivation of others, we are showing a lack of faith. God is able to care for all His creation. He does not depend on us for anything. Our giving and sympathy are to be undertaken as being good for us, as well as for the poor and suffering.

Trying to out-do others by suffering more is just a way to fall into the trap of pride, anyway. I do much better spiritually when my body gives out and I must stay warm and eat right and rest for hours at a time. It's very humbling.

I've had a lot of humility lately, as stress at work has triggered the ol' migraine monster, and I've spent one day of each of the last three weekends mostly sleeping. But, there again, the stress is because I'm allowing myself to be put into a bad spot by someone whose priorities and work habits are completely different from mine. As my sister reminded me today, there are no awards for letting your life be ruined by somebody else's bad behavior.

Throughout my 20s and 30s I mainlined stress. I had almost no coping skills, a chaotic home life, and married someone I felt comfortable with because life with him was similar to what I'd grown up with around my mother. Add in a very difficult job and some health issues, and I was pretty well done. In many ways, I'm now in the best time of my life: It has taken me a couple of years to let go of my chronic anxiety and begin to lighten up a little, realizing that I can, indeed, enjoy life just a bit.

The FlyLady system has really helped me. FLY can be thought of as standing for Finally Loving Yourself. It's true. Having an orderly, tidy, clean house, a comfortable place to sleep, and my clothes all ready each day still feels like an extravagant luxury to me, but I have to do it. I have to train myself to live a normal life, with a normal amount of joy and happiness. God did not give me this life to spend my days cringing in fear and dread and anxiety.

02 October 2005

The fear of being touched

Jules over at Faith or Fiction related her discomfort with the idea of going up for prayer at church.

...at the end of the service, I always freeze as the person doing the closing remarks mentions that the staff will be up front if anybody needs to stop for a prayer because of illness or struggles in their life. I have never been able to figure out why this is so hard for me to hear and even harder for me to respond to...

[ ... ]

I feel close to tears for many reasons - mostly because of how blessed I am - but also because of how fearful I am. I can push it off for just so long before it all comes creeping back again like a wave from Rita washing over the damage left by Katrina. Wave after endless wave as I sit in retrospect ... Does He sense my pain and anguish? Does He understand why I can't go up front at church and ask Him for my life back?

My heart goes out to her. It sounds so familiar - the "freezing." The fear. The tears. As I read it, I recalled my struggles with something similar.

I've never had a massage. I don't like to be touched by people I don't know. I can endure doctor visits only because they are short. I dislike even having my hair washed at the salon.

The closest I've come to it was to actually step inside the spa, pay for a session, and look around. I felt quite pleased with myself that I got that far. I dreaded the whole experience for three days beforehand. The morning I went in I was so upset I was shaking.

After some thought and discussion with the one who helps me sort through these things, I've realized it's not the process of touch itself that bothers me. There is a long story behind it, quite sad, which I cannot share in this forum. What I can share is that I've figured it out. I at last know why I "freeze" in fear and and flatly refuse to undergo what, for most people, is a heavenly relaxing experience.

I think we need to honor our feelings and trust in God. Someday I might be ready to do what I fear ... or I might not. It doesn't matter. Nobody cares. God knows the truth about our reluctance better than we do. He surely does not mind that Jules cannot ask for prayer, any more than He minds that I cannot submit to a healing massage. He knows that sometimes our hurts leave us unable to accept good things.

I am healing from whatever is blocking me from accepting such service, because I can see that something is good, even though, in my fear and confusion, I will not partake. Wounded people like me can take a long time to get to the point where we will allow someone who's safe to help them in an intimate way, whether by prayer or healing touch or whatever it is. God will provide the giver when we are ready. It must not be forced. I know for a fact that, when it is time, He will provide one whom you can trust and lean on. It happened for me, in the most unexpected and profoundly healing way. Until then, we can lean on Him. He's strong enough to hold us all close in His heart.

01 October 2005

God is quick with correction

My previous post was about paying a bill. Then I found this.

Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.

Being poor is a heater in only one room of the house.

Being poor is having to live with choices you didn't know you made when you were 14 years old.

The entire post is a sobering reminder of living for 8 years in a house with no heat except for an electric oil heater and not enough money to take advantage of sales or use coupons. I remember feeling so resentful of a wonderful, but clueless, boss who complained during a relentless heat wave that the air conditioning wasn't working in his house - upstairs. I had never lived with air conditioning before, and was into my second week without real sleep.

To this day I am careful with money. I always will be. I don't think I could ever have enough money not to worry any more.

I will not feel guilty about posting about my success in paying off my debt. I didn't do it with a windfall. I did it by taking my lunch every day to work, and not buying new clothes, and doing without new [fill in the blank]. I reused and scrimped and made do, and I shall continue to do so, until the other debts are paid... and then I'll start saving.

I think we who are comfortable forget what makes poverty "grinding": the utter inability to save any money. Capital is what makes capitalism work; once you've got a bit of it, it begins to get some momentum, and you can make some progress. But how hopeless it can seem to ever get ahead. God bless those who are frightened tonight for money reasons. May they make good choices and have the strength they need to keep going.

What's your blogging personality?

These things are the potato chips of the blog world ...

Your Blogging Type is Pensive and Philosophical

You blog like no one else is reading...
You tend to use your blog to explore ideas - often in long winded prose.
Easy going and flexible, you tend to befriend other bloggers easily.
But if they disagree with once too much, you'll pull them from your blogroll!

Saw this over at Carolyn's.

"Has anything ever happened to you...

... when after it was all said and done you knew it was God?" Gina Burgess posted her response to this question which she found over at Joe B's. What a great question. I am down-on-my-knees grateful that I have lots of possible responses, but I'll choose just one, for now.

Many years ago, I was in Minneapolis for a seminar for my work. The weather was nice, and I was getting stir crazy, so I asked the concierge at the hotel if it was safe to walk nearby. He gave a sort of guarded response, the tone of which I should have listened to, but I was young and needed a walk, so out I went.

It was fairly early in the morning, bright sunshine. I walked just a couple blocks south of the hotel, and turned left down a long block with the notion of going back up at the next light. Midway down the block was a bar - the kind with no windows. The door opened up and three large, seriously inebriated Native American males lurched out onto the sidewalk right in front of me. Now, at the time, I was in my 20s and reasonably fetching-looking in a sleeveless summer frock and sandals, and I had their immediate and full attention.

I really had nowhere to go but past them, so I moved to the outside of the sidewalk (thinking I'd step into the somewhat busy traffic if I had to) and proceeded to walk briskly by. No such luck. They started making encouraging noises in my direction. Since there were three of them, they were egging each other on a bit. I was beginning to feel considerable alarm, though I tried not to show it. I didn't want to try to run, because I felt instinctively they'd chase me, so I just walked fast. They walked behind me, calling to me. I started eyeing the traffic for a break.

Just then, a tall, handsome older gentleman with a full head of white hair fell into step beside me. I had no idea where he'd come from. He greeted me as though we were already acquainted, and walked quite close, though not touching. We chatted about the weather and I don't know what else. Behind us, my followers, muttering, gave up the chase.

That man and I walked for a block. He had a serene smile the whole time and never made reference to my entourage. The hotel was in sight at the next intersection. He said "Good-bye" just as the light changed. I turned to thank him, but he had vanished.

There wasn't a side street or a working door anywhere in the vicinity. The building beside us was boarded up.

It was my first conscious encounter with an angel.

Rejoice with me

I am thinking of the story Jesus told, about the woman who lost a coin and swept her whole house, then called her friends to rejoice with her when it was found. I didn't lose anything, but feel much the same, because I paid off a bill today.

Almost two years ago, the timing belt broke on my Volvo. I was decelerating into a stop sign when it happened. I felt the engine let go and heard one of the most horrible sounds a car owner can hear: the six-cylinder equivalent of a spoon in a garbage disposal.

I was not upset. The circumstances were such that it had "God's Will" stamped all over it in inch-high letters. I was on my way to have a conversation which was inappropriate for me to have, and, although I was determined to do it, I'd prayed to God and asked Him to allow or prevent it. (Me sitting in car at intersection right after it happened: "All righty, then, I guess that would be a 'No.'") I felt protected, in spite of the circumstances: it happened on a Sunday afternoon in a quiet, safe residential area. My passenger was one of those calm, resourceful souls who dispensed a comforting hug at the right moment, then easily and quickly arranged to borrow a car. It could have been a miserable experience; he made it almost pleasant, if not for the mortal injury to my beloved Volvo. (We Volvo owners can get a bit dotty over our "bricks.")

The decision to repair vs. replace was a serious one. I went on-line and looked at cars, but the more I looked, the more I found myself gravitating to the same make, same model. I looked at used Volvos of the same vintage (one of the last rear-wheel drive models) and discovered their price range was exactly what it would cost to rebuild the engine. Rather than buy another car which I didn't know, I decided to repair my old friend.

For two years I have thrown every extra bit at that debt. This month I broke the magic number that allowed me to transfer some savings and pay off the remaining balance.

Along the way, I've not gone without a thing I truly needed. I've had enough extra for a few little treats now and then. God is kind. I just hope I've learned to cultivate a quiet and teachable spirit, so that He doesn't have to take such drastic measures in future to keep me from doing something stupid!

What color should your blog or journal be?

Your Blog Should Be Green
Your blog is smart and thoughtful - not a lot of fluff.You enjoy a good discussion, especially if it involves picking apart ideas.However, you tend to get easily annoyed by any thoughtless comments in your blog.

Found at Fructus Ventris, who found it at Happy Catholic.