Friday, March 17, 2017

From the Corporeal to the Spiritual

A consecrated virgin friend of mine sent me a sweet email about how she fondly remembers that one time I hid a can of Guinness under my coat and discreetly passed it off to her at the Angelicum - amidst all the priests, sisters, and seminarians. I have no memory of this - smuggling beer to religious people is apparently not enough out of the ordinary for me to even note.

Food is one of the many ways in which I express my love. If I like you, I will feed you. If I don't like you, I will take those last few curly fries and make intense and uncomfortable eye-contact with you as I eat them - the sort of eye-contact babies make with you when they poop their diapers.

A friend was recently over, sad and in need of comfort. Instead of hugging her, I listed off every single food item I had that she could conceivably eat, racking my mind to suggest something that might tempt her appetite. Then I hugged her. Then I suggested she talk to a priest.

When we're very sad, we tend to abstain from food because our taste for life and all it entails is dulled. Eating becomes mechanical rather than sensual; there is no joy. This is mirrored in our spiritual lives when we go to Mass and receive the Eucharist - it's like some huge fist has flattened out the entirety of our experiences so that even the most profound one possible to man agitates no response.

The urge to feed someone isn't misplaced. We need physical and spiritual food; you only become more energized when you have energy to spend and you only get energy through eating. Even though what we receive may seem unbearably and unpalatably dry, it's necessary for recovery. Eventually, things might (might!) begin to taste good again and we can lift up our drooping heads and laugh.

Perhaps the order should be a hug, then food, then a good spiritual talk. One thing that I admittedly need to work on is being more demonstrative in my emotions - they run too deep to have an easy outlet. But without external signs, how are people to know that you even care?

For now, I will simply keep trying to feed the people I care for - it is a sign that I know how to give -  and work my way up to expressing human empathy in a way that's more relatable.

But Jesus did ask Peter to feed His sheep - perhaps a little bit of Guinness can lead to God.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

J'existe

Soeur Christine and I used to eat our lunches together in the garden of the Angelicum. We'd sit there on the garden benches, birds chirping in the bushes, Dominican brothers lazily taking their post-lunch strolls - and we'd quietly discuss mundane bits life, switching between French and English, talking about classes.

Through it all, we very rarely discussed God. God was there embracing the garden, penetrating our friendship, breathing life and grace into simple joys. To talk about God would have been redundant.

Flannery O'Connor wrote "I distrust pious phrases, especially when they issue from my mouth. I try militantly never to be affected by the pious language of the faithful but it is always coming out when you least expect it."

When I hear people perpetually bringing things back to a spiritual context, or being overly dramatic about life's connections to God, or speaking casually about spiritual things (particularly if they're 'trying to discern God's will' -- that line deserves to die a thousand deaths), I find myself instinctually becoming unsettled. At first, it seemed that maybe my spirituality was lacking in some respect. These people HELLA went to Church and Holy Hour and Bible Study and Praise and Worship and then TALKED ABOUT IT ALL THE TIME afterwards. Holy Hotcakes! Then it seemed like such people couldn't possibly keep that up ALL the time. Where was human-time? Did they human? Then it turned into active mistrust.

With all their thoughts fixed above, they forgot how to bring it down on earth. Faith and works are the PB&J of Catholicism. These people were so caught up in seeing God that they couldn't see God's visage in man. Often enough, I've found myself injured in some way by individuals like the above who rationalize away a lack of compassion and empathy, minimizing your pain by giving it some spiritual spin - either to themselves or when presenting it to you.

The roommate could justify showing an appalling disregard for your personal belongings or comfort because she was doing *good things*! This man could be callous because he's discerned something and, guess what, homie - you're not part of that so scoot because God's will! Oh. Did you think he'd TELL you that? Hah. No. You were supposed to figure that out on your own! This woman could practice her flagrant spirituality during Mass, even though it's distracting and affects those around her, because That's How She Worships.

In all of these instances, the individual places themselves not in the service of others but in service to their own inclinations, wrapping them in a cloak of holiness, sitting back happily content that they did nothing wrong. The poor people in the pews are simply not holy enough to see how this loud spirituality doesn't hurt them! The poor woman dropped like a hot potato was insignificant since she no longer figures in the grand scheme of things for this individual. She'll be ok because God has other plans for her!!! The poor roommate comes home to find her belongings haphazardly shoved into a little cupboard because some priests were coming over for dinner - and did you know priests are coming over for dinner!? Sorry, did you have to study and wouldn't appreciate that? Do you hate God or something?

The priest at my local parish just held a healing Mass. He looked out over his congregation and began to cry at seeing our pain: he was with us, he was compassionate, we were not insignificant. And he had only a few simple words for us - that it was good, Lord, that we were here. No telling us that suffering was good for us because heaven and stuff. He simply affirmed our reality, our brokenness.

Pious language just stinks to high heaven of rationalization to me. People are there, people are breakable, and people deserve the most human response you can possibly give to what they're going through or might go through because of your actions: a Christ-like response. Love is what actualizes us - our very beings are ontologically oriented towards Love Itself. We must act in love - we must live the truth if we are to be human.

Josef Pieper wrote:
"Reality is the foundation of ethics. The good is that which is in accord with reality. He who wishes to know and to do the good must turn his gaze upon the objective world of being. Not upon his own 'ideas', not upon his 'conscience', not upon 'values', not upon arbitrarily established 'ideals' and 'models'. He must turn away from his own act and fix his eyes upon reality."
-Living the Truth
That is why I distrust people who regularly use pious language - because it makes me fear that the proper order is subverted and I am flinching in anticipation of the possible people who will fall victim by the wayside. Except that not all people who fall will have a Good Samaritan in their lives to help them up and put them back together.

Don't justify things first by appeal to ultimate ends. That's consequentialism. Justify things because in there *here* and the *now* it is the Christ-like human thing to do in relation to the final end, because it is the thing that is best for both you and others.

And, even though I constantly violate this (I'm pretty sure I will not let someone merge on my commute today...even though it would be better to...), it's still something to strive for.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Spiritual Go Fund Me

This time of the year is always a rather reflective time for me.

Six years ago, on March 11th, I woke up and knew something was dreadfully wrong. It was still dark and I quietly hobbled into the bathroom, trying not to wake my roommates, flipping on the lights to reveal the visage of a disease that has no cure: mixed connective tissue disease. A few days later, I was officially diagnosed.

Autoimmune diseases are chronic, mysterious in origin, and poorly understood. The immune system goes haywire and begins to attack its own tissue and organs. The symptoms range from mildly uncomfortable aches and malaise (in mild cases) to organ involvement and complete debilitation (in severe cases). I fall somewhere in the middle.

Usually, I'm really quite fine. My disease is managed with medications but, occasionally, the disease does flare up and gifts me with horrible fatigue, crippling bouts of nausea, inflamed joints, and - what bothers me particularly - sausage fingers. Most of these symptoms have no external sign which makes for a hidden fragility.

Last month, shortly after President's Day, I drove myself to the emergency room because the disease flared up suddenly after being relatively quiet for a long period of time. Discouragement settled on me as I labored to breathe and, after six hours of monitoring and tests I was released to go home and cry while my friends went out and danced. I’m still not over this flare.

Many women deal with a whole host of insecurities about their bodies. Mine are much more extreme and far-reaching. Will I ever be able to not fear my body? Will friends fall away if I cannot consistently be there for them? Will I be rejected because of this? … Will I become a burden on those I love?

Suffering is my daily companion; I endure its presence forever in this life.

Suffering is said to be one of the strongest proofs against the existence of God. Not because it is the soundest argument as proofs go against the existence of God, but because arguments seem insufficient held before the face of human misery. Do you DARE to say to someone who is grieving over a lost one, to someone crying quietly at night from pain, to someone diagnosed with a terminal illness, that God is *loving* and *merciful*?

Each day, I pray to be healed. The hardest thing to pray is "Blessed be God in all His designs" and "Thy will be done." Why do His designs not include my health? Why does His will exclude this? If He only said even a -word- I would be healed.

And yet, I must pray these things.

To believe that suffering has no purpose, that life ends in this world, and that it is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” would hurt me more than to disbelieve that there is justice in the next world – bodies made sound, injustices righted, and an eternity of happiness to exchange for a life of misery. When I ask God why there is suffering, why *I* am suffering, I speak to a face that reflects and holds my pain, to someone else who prayed for a cup to pass, to someone who, out of love, became united with us in our humanity and, through voluntary suffering, re-set the disorder that creation had fallen into. Suffering is no longer pointless; in our commonality with Christ it is turned to some good as we take what pittance we have, our very lacking, and give it to Him. It is no longer a bleak landscape without a horizon but a weary pilgrimage to a better home.

I am Catholic. These things I firmly believe – not out of weakness or because it is a pretty fairy tale to soothe away mental or emotional anguish – but because it is the only thing that makes sense to me. I don’t understand why me and I do not need to.

“God has mysteries. Only the devil has secrets.”
–Alice Thomas Ellis

If you are Catholic and feeling charitable, I’d ask that you join a Spiritual Go Fund Me: say a novena to St. Joseph the Worker for my healing and for all those who suffer from chronic illness. We need your prayers.

Let It Be / Do No Violence


I find the notion that people should run around with an overt attitude of disrespect/dismissal towards ideas/propositions that they assume, prima facie, to be false...somewhat gauche. This attitude is widespread, and I think it's because the wee-punks who run around believing it's terribly deep to be contrary on dicey issues but have never opened themselves in such a way as to be formed by things that are beautiful, deep, and true. Ironically, they're not the radical free thinkers that they think they are. They are caaaayyyyeeeeged in their own 'eads.

For example, one gentleman (who I met once - don't run around thinking I'm a terrible, horrible gossip!) and I had a discussion about "Wuthering Heights." I made some general, interpretive remark, and the gentleman forcefully asserted that the reason the woman married the man she did was because she was obsessed with power! Not a word I could say, not a textual basis I could provide to the contrary, would budge this man from his firm conviction that the woman in Wuthering Heights was a power-hungry wench. Eventually, he simply said "look, I KNOW I'm right." Next, this gentleman (well, perhaps I should say "barbarian") told me that MUCH of literature is about power-hungry women.

Perhaps he'd been reading M. Bovary earlier that day? Anyway, the gentleman was very happy with his neatly reasoned argument, and left satisfied that he'd, er, convinced me (I'd given up trying to speak with him and reverted to mundane pleasantries).

OKAYEEE!

You see, a thing should be allowed to be the thing that it is. Do no violence to a work of fiction, to an idea, to others. Love, oddly enough, entails letting the people whom you love be who they are, and helping them flourish and grow to be more themselves. When you force something onto them (say, making a friend take a calligraphy class with you because you think it is so t'eh awesome - which it is, but some people prefer to keep their admiration for art at a distance from the actual practice of that art), you're not letting them be.

Take this poem from Dorothy Sayers for example:
They hail you as their morning star
Because you are the way you are.
If you return the sentiment,
They'll try to make you different;
And once they have you, safe and sound,
They want to change you all around.
Your moods and ways they put a curse on;
They'd make of you another person.
They cannot let you go your gait;
They influence and educate.
They'd alter all that they admired.
They make me sick, they make me tired.
While I am not quite in accord with D.S. here, on the subject of men in general, I must say that she has put her finger on an attitude - many people do not immerse themselves into an idea but impose themselves onto that idea. One finds many screeds on the internet regarding Catholicism that amount to someone thinking something couldn't possibly be true and then reasoning backwards, twisting dogmas or arguments to fit the conclusion. Of course, if that's your 'tude, you WILL NOT actually arrive at an idea itself because you cannot get past our own head.

Consider conspiracy-theorists - nothing you can say will make them change their minds. They have decided to interpret the world through some specs that they have fashioned. They are not encountering reality or ideas. They cannot LET a thing BE ITSELF. And why not? Because they don't want to. And you, trying to convince them otherwise, are simply a cog caught up in the mechanism of some diabolical propaganda machine.

Disrespecting ideas as a held-attitude is appalling not because there is, necessarily, anything respectable about some particular idea. There are some really terrible ideas. Dismissing ideas/propositions without due examination is appalling because it does not permit a man to act freely within the world. I wouldn't consider a man to be acting freely when he is operating off of false information. But we are operating off of false - or, at best, limited - information if we do not permit things to be what they are. If you're so stuck in a world of your own making, you're never going to be a liberal thinker. To be a liberal thinker entails an attitude of respect towards ideas or propositions in some way - even those you reject vehemently as false  - because, otherwise, you would never be GET anywhere IN thinking. You would not be reasoning but assuming, dismissing without basis: you will always arrive at the conclusions that you had in the first place (or what those conclusions entail), you will never experience true curiosity, you will never, ever, be free.

Let ens be. Don't be violent. #SpreadTheTruth