Monday, December 13, 2010

Advent's Quiet

Faith Formation (CCD) was quite nice yesterday. We were decorating Christmas boxes (filled with notes of what we were and would be giving to Christ this season) for an Advent presentation next weekend. And while we decorated, we talked about whatever came up. We talked about God and science, about what it meant to be Catholic and Christian and how to handle others not believing we believe. The subject matter went wherever the kids took it, and it was a beautiful little conversation. Some expressed how they wished our parish had a youth program and that some were involved in Protestant youth groups because of our lack. It was a good class.

Youth need times like these to try to find answers to questions they have or about which they are curious. Something less formal. I try to incorporate some of this in every class, but other lessons must be gotten through as well.

How do we properly catechize our youth when our catechetical programs end just as our children are getting to be of the age to fall in love with their God? Some of the push back I've received is that some suppose none would show up when they didn't have something like Confirmation to "hold over" them (which is another problem in and of itself). But while we would love 100% attendance, it would be meaningful for those who need to be there to be there. And other church groups have more than proven the possibilities and merits of such programs. Catechesis - learning - doesn't end when we're 14, but some of our 14-year-olds don't know that because our very program seems to suggest otherwise. You don't graduate from walking with the Spirit and growing in grace. And sometimes you just need to know that others are present when you need them.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Go to Mass or Go to Hell

This week we had a holy day of obligation in the Catholic Church: the feast of the Immaculate Conception. A holy day requires those of us who are Catholic to attend Mass/Liturgy if possible. The penalty for not attending is, well, hell.

Sort of. I mean we are given the sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession to prevent such an undesirable arrangement, but missing for no good reason is considered a grave/mortal sin. I'm not a big fan of grave sin, or at least not the definition of it. It makes our spirituality too much an exercise in accounting. Now I understand and appreciate its intention. I understand how the Church tries to instruct and nurture us as she is, our mother. I understand that the Church is pointing to the Liturgy as an encounter with Christ - the encounter with Christ. I understand that the Church is saying that it is a great good, and that your missing (for no good reason) reveals some disorder in your heart. And I agree. But most Catholics come away from the doctrine with the idea - feel this way even if they don't intellectually view it as such - that if you commit a grave sin, and then get hit by a train, you go to hell.

This is shocking, for some. Legalistic for others. For myself, I'd rather be treated as an adult than a child. Obligating my presence on pains of hell helps no one. Labeling something such as this as grave sin (with eternal consequences) obliterates our ability to understand the Fatherhood of God. It strips away faithfulness and friendship and abiding in Christ, and he in us, and exchanges it for a legal system, juridical. Sometimes it is better to understand sin as a bent rather than an individual act. It can be better seen, often, as a revelation of the heart or a way of being, and not simply a slip or fall. When I sin gravely, and I do, it is a sign of my weakness and of my need. I have never not desired reconciliation with God (thanks be to God!) - and this is his grace working in me. But he is faithful even when we are faithless, because, as the Scriptures say, he cannot deny himself.

I'm not saying that one should get a pass on murder if it's a one-time kind of thing. But skipping one Mass is not an objective evil (other than, possibly, because of one's disobedience to the Church). How could it be since Mass was not always required? It is, however, an intrinsic good and we should be exhorted to make ourselves present to God, to receive him in Word and in Mystery/Sacrament. Missing Mass regularly is your exclusion of yourself from God. (Of course, I'm speaking to Catholics here.) This is death, or mortal/grave sin.

We need to better understand our sin and how it affects us. I don't think defining missing Mass as a grave sin, as the Church does - with its consequences - to be particularly helpful. Stripping away the "on pains of hell" can be helpful, as it helps me better understand sin in the midst of our disordered culture. The instruction is important; the call to conversion is important.

God is love. Does his being love strip away from me the need for the sacrament of Reconciliation? Hardly. God is life. I can and do separate myself from him, but the fact that I present myself before him for Reconciliation shows his grace working in me. His presence is constant, immediate - there is never a time that I need to get his attention. He calls and we must answer, because there is no where else to go. No better place. God is not angry with us. But sometimes we become angry with him. Sometimes we are faithless. This does not change God, but it does change us. And this is why Reconciliation/Confession is so important. Because it heals our infirmities.

Push back if you would. I understand my disagreement is problematic, but I think the Church can do better. What do you think? What am I misunderstanding?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Gulo Gulo

I watched PBS's Nature last night. The program was "Wolverine: Chasing the Phantom." And among the many amazing things they said concerning this marvelous creature was its Latin name: Gulo gulo. The name means "glutton glutton." And I've been thinking about gluttony since and it seems to me right that the Desert Fathers thought of it as the heart of our sin - the first sin is a sin of gluttony and all sin flows forth from it. (Pride, C.S. Lewis - I hear you.) This is why fasting is of such paramount importance to the Fathers and the Orthodox even still. Fasting undoes the first sin. Now, I am not real big on fasting. (Whereas feasting is spirituality I can dig in to.)I wrestle with my gluttony, my avarice toward all things - consumption, gluttony, seems to be the prize of American culture and any limit imposed on it is flatly rejected (though more precisely any limit imposed from without rather than freely taken on by oneself). There is no true freedom in accumulation - more for the sake of more. (See Jonathan Franzen's Freedom.) My dog is a picture of my heart. She is a voracious, out-of-control scavenger. At times, ratlike. My cats are also this way. Especially the semi-feral cat. You have to pull Francis out of his food just to finish pouring it. There is no contentment, no rest. So it is with our hearts. This is why it is so important to share, to give alms. To say No to self in order to say Yes to my neighbor. To suppress the gulo gulo in each of us.

This is also part of the beauty and hardship of living generously in a large family, I might add. Twelve Popsicles mean two apiece. Maybe. Probably not, though, because Daddy might give some out to the little ones at home while the bigger ones are learning about landforms. And then there aren't enough Popsicles for everyone. And if there aren't enough for everyone, then nobody gets one. It's hard. But it is also blessing. It helps us form godliness and love within us. And it's hard.

It is like this in our world. We are a large family, and we must share. Because so many are without clean water and food. So many are dying while we become Mayors of our favorite restaurants. While we become fat. While we hoard and fill our barns. And build bigger barns. May God have mercy on us; that we might draw near to him, who pours himself out freely and unreservedly to all.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Oh, Crappiness!

I was awakened by a migraine this morning. It is a hard way to greet a new day. I took my meds, went back to bed for a few minutes rather than walking, and woke later with the same heaviness. Exhausting me. It fluctuated throughout the day, climaxing around 6:30-8:00 p.m. So I buried myself in my dark bedroom, heel pressed to my temple (or temple pressed into my folded pillow), and rocked back and forth praying variations of the Jesus Prayer over and over. Eventually I fell asleep and woke again around 11:15 to take some ibuprofen and try to do some needed paperwork. It's only a quiet ache at the moment, for which I'm grateful. My headaches are debilitating. I really hate them. And while I try to "offer up the pain," the offering of them never lessens the pain - and you'd think it ought to. The pain reveals me as I am, which is quite ugly if I do say so myself. No gentle saint hidden beneath my well-composed mask. Just an angry, selfish man.

My dryer broke the day before yesterday. I called the repairman, but it might be a day or two before it's fixed (or replaced) and the laundry factory begins again its sluggish business. In my estimation, a rather bad time for it to blow. Already financially tight and unable to visit my family over the holidays, this situation doesn't help that one.

I'm waiting for other shoes to drop to concretize my helplessness, my neediness, my desperation. To buckle me onto my knees, felling me. Because in the midst of all the crap in the fan, the truth and goodness of God stands. I may not be standing in that truth right now; I may be staring at it from across the road. But it's right there. Like the nose on my face. Like the pain in my cranium. Like the constancy of need, of demand, in a house full of children. I close myself to it because the "I" makes it all so unbearable. If I could lose It, the in-rush of joy would be refreshing sweet. I am full too much of me.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Oh, Happiness!

One of my first-favorite passages of Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov comes at the end of Part 1. I love the joy and peace of it:

"... he laughed again ... softly and happily. He slowly put the note into the little envelope, crossed himself, and lay down. The confusion in his soul suddenly passed. 'Lord, have mercy on them all today, unhappy and stormy as they are, preserve and guide them. All ways are yours: save them according to your ways. You are love, you will send joy to all!' Alyosha murmured, crossing himself and falling into a serene sleep."

I was reminded of this passage as I listened to David Crowder* Band's "Oh, Happiness!" - a similar strain of meaning echoes in the lyrics, "Oh, happiness! There's grace enough for us and the whole human race."

Yesterday was one of those rare days where I spent the good part of it in joy. Peace and joy. Diapers, dishes, sweeping, feeding the baby - it was all joy, because God is. And he is love. I was perfectly at peace yesterday morning - I knew myself to be the worst of sinners and yet would have been happy in hell if I could retain one thing, simply knowing that God, who is love, was and is and will be forever. Nothing was needed beyond that knowing. I could rest there.

I am not a good man. But Glory to Jesus Christ! for God is good, and the lover of mankind.

Today is another day. Pray for me.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

With a Wrathful Soul

There is only love, and when love fails, life fails.

O my Jesus, forgive us our sins. Save us from the fires of hell [that rage in our hearts, that in our weakness we feed]. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of thy mercy.

I want to repost a quote from Dostoevsky simply because I need to be reminded of it this morning and every morning:

"See, here you have passed by a small child, passed by in anger, with a foul word, with a wrathful soul; you perhaps did not notice the child, but he saw you, and your unsightly and impious image has remained in his defenseless heart. You did not know it, but you may thereby have planted a bad seed in him, and it may grow, and all because you did not restrain yourself before the child, because you did not nurture in yourself a heedful, active love. Brothers, love is a teacher, but one must know how to acquire it, for it is difficult to acquire, it is dearly bought, by long work over a long time, for one ought to love not for a chance moment but for all time. Anyone, even a wicked man, can love by chance."

(Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. Trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2002. 319.)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pray for Us, Padre Pio

Today is the feast day of St Pio of Pietrelcina. Padre Pio is significant to me mostly because of our 6-month-old son, Noah. During his birth my wife's hands had been pierced multiple times as different nurses unsuccessfully tried to draw blood. When the room was empty, she lifted her bandaged hands and said she felt like Padre Pio, who bore the stigmata of our Lord. I left that night from the hospital and stopped for a cheese steak. I sat down and waited for my late supper and looked up at the wall to my right and was somewhat surprised to see a picture of Padre Pio, the only religious picture on the wall. So I began calling Baby Noah "Pio" on occasion, as I felt that Padre Pio was near us that night, praying for us.

Today is the first full day of Autumn. It is the feast day of St Pio of Pietrelcina. Coincidentally, Noah was born on the first day of Spring, six months ago on March 20. Noah's half birthday is Sept 20, which is the day Padre Pio received permanently the marks of Christ upon his body.

What does it all mean? To some, talk of saints is silliness and superstition. "Those who are dead," they might say, "are dead; they know nothing of us or our lives." Or they believe that prayers to the saints are undeserved, unnecessary and take away from Christ - like clouds before the sun. And I understand that. But for others of us, the saints are very real and present in our lives - indeed, part of what the "I believe ... in the communion of saints" means. They pray for us, and we ask for their prayers - not in opposition to Christ, not robbing anything from Christ, but because of Christ (who, as St Athanasius says, became man that we might, by God's grace, become God [in his energies, not his nature]). God does not dwell alone. God is not selfish. He does not hoard himself. He gives himself. He does not demand our worship. But he draws us into communion with him, into his very life. Pours himself out for us. And when we are drawn into him, reconciled to him - who is love - we adore him because there is nothing else to do. And when we adore him, we worship him with a great company. The glory of the saints is Christ, and their glory magnifies the glory of Christ - it shows forth God's glory.

We have communion with Padre Pio - a connection, to put it in more sterile terms. He and Noah are brothers. But not simply because of the correspondences of certain milestones in their lives, but because they are in Christ. Padre Pio is our brother. And he loves my son and points him to Christ. He walks before and beside him - always and only gesturing to Christ.

My words are insufficient and poor. So I will simply ask today for the prayers of Padre Pio, remembering his holiness, his compassion, his love and his life. Happy feast day!

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Crazy Love and a Quiet Life

I recently read Francis Chan's Crazy Love. I'm not a big fan of the book, if you care. Sometimes we get caught up in wanting to live an extraordinary life for Christ - to do something extraordinary for God - but at the heart of it, it is little more than vainglory. Or, sometimes our desire to "do something great for God" is little more than our desire to be someone great.

St John the Forerunner says, "He must increase and I must decrease."

Jesus says, "Love your neighbor as yourself," "love as I have loved you," and "love your enemies."

St Paul says, "Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands."

Mother Teresa says something like, "We can not do great things. We can only do little things with great love."

Maybe God is calling you to Africa or India - so go already. But it's more likely he isn't. Strive to be less, to be no one. Love your wife. Be gentle with your children. Go to Liturgy. Pray always. Judge no one.

When we love our enemy, love the crazy fool of a pastor who wants to burn Qur'ans, love the one who wishes us harm - then we have begun to be in communion with Christ. For it is Christ who loves these.

If Wishes Were Horses

My seven-year-old, Avery, said, "I wish I could bite my butt like dogs do."


"I wish I was a girl but I had a boy's bottom," said Avery.

"Why?" I said, suddenly interested.

"Because," she said, "Then I wouldn't have to have a period."

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Computer Woes

My computer won't turn on - probably the power supply as it's been a recurring problem on this machine. The difference is that this time it's not under any warranty. I'm wondering if I should fix it for several hundred dollars or replace it. It's 5 1/2 years old. I do need a machine for freelance work. Any thoughts? BlogBooster-The most productive way for mobile blogging. BlogBooster is a multi-service blog editor for iPhone, Android, WebOs and your desktop

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Hey, Hey, Hey

I am in Week 4 of Weight Watchers. Actually, I'm not a paying customer; I'm just along for the ride with Laura (though she hardly needs it, and I desperately do). Last week wasn't a good week - Noah's godparents sent home pasta twice (pasta with spaghetti sauce - she puts Italian sausages in her spaghetti sauce, mind you - and another night shrimp fettuccine Alfredo). But in spite of it, I've still lost 13 pounds in the first three weeks. I hope to do better this week, but I find I'm running headlong into my appetite.

Appetite is a bad thought. I don't have to eat as I do because I'm hungry. The reasons I eat as I do have nothing to do with my physical need or even the comfort of a spoiled stomach. Gluttony is a spiritual problem: It's finding solace in a means for communion with God, rather than in communion with God. And even the skinnies among us share in it. You don't have to look like me to struggle with gluttony. Saint John Climacus says,

"In our self-criticism we must refer particularly to the stomach, and indeed I wonder if anyone breaks free of this mistress before he dies.

Gluttony is hypocrisy of the stomach. Filled, it moans about scarcity; stuffed, and crammed, it wails about its hunger. ... Gluttony has a deceptive appearance: it eats moderately but wants to gobble everything at the same time. A stuffed belly produces fornication, while a mortified stomach leads to purity. The man who pets a lion may tame it, but the man who coddles the body makes it ravenous.

- The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 14, On Gluttony (my emphases)

And Saint Isaac of Syria says, "It is just as shameful for lovers of the flesh and the belly to search out spiritual things as it is for a harlot to discourse on chastity." This is what I love about the Church Fathers. When you need a good punch in the gut, they're happy to oblige. And most of us need the breath knocked out of us, every now and then, for our salvation. The added blessing of the Church Fathers is that it feels less personal when the guy's been dead for a thousand years. But back to the quote. Here I am, I write on spiritual disciplines, on ascesis, and I am a catechist at my parish and then Saint Isaac of Syria comes along and says that I'm no better than a harlot giving discourses on chastity. So where does that leave me? It makes me feel like saying, I can't do this - I'm a hypocrite. But that's not the answer - I don't think. The better answer, perhaps, is to recognize my hypocrisy, the reality of my situation - I am unqualified, but in my weakness, perhaps the Holy Spirit can reach someone.

Meanwhile I'm going forward with this business of taming my stomach and trying to squeeze more life out of my lifetime. I want to be an old man, surrounded by my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I don't want to swing to the other extreme, into a cult of the body, but I do want to take my appetite by the horns and find peace through the struggle.

Pray for me.

(The photo is from Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives.)

Friday, August 06, 2010

Quiet and Humble

If you haven't heard, Anne Rice has left Christianity ... but not Christ, she says. I'm a little upset about her announcement. Not so much because of her decision, but because of the reasons she gives for her decision. She has been wounded by us. (Lord, have mercy.) But I am rooting for her, and for others like her. I am rooting for people like Christopher Hitchens who is suffering with esophageal cancer. I feel kinship with them; I have an affection for them. I see Christ in them.

Anne Rice's story is important not because she's a bestselling novelist. Her story is important because it's been told before, and it's been told by Christ. But we clap our hands over our ears and heap our disregard onto a wounded sister's shoulders. Anne Rice left the Church because you and I fail to love our neighbor. It's that simple. You and I make the faith about issues and politics and a world of things other than Christ. She left because you and I fail to be quiet and humble. When someone doesn't share our views - whether it's about sexuality, abortion, politics, or liturgy - we bristle and spit, "You aren't Catholic if you ..." or "You cannot follow Christ and ..." This is not love, but judgment. There is a place for those who are spiritual to come along and exhort, encourage, and correct. But it is not my place. It is not yours.

Nothing animates the pious like issues: not God, not Church, not loving the poor and marginalized - nothing. A fight invigorates us. But all our "righteousness" will never change the desires of someone who is homosexual. We cannot raise one hand to protect the unborn and choke our brown neighbor with the other. We will never convince anyone of the love of Christ with our anger and judgment. We are called to be martyrs for Christ. To die. And by our love to be the sacrament of God to our world.

If anyone will kill the Church, the pious will.

God is love. He is full of mercy. We must love others because God loves them. (If we are in communion with God, then we will love whom he loves.) We must be quiet and, like a child, humble. We must pray always. As for Anne Rice, let me close with a quote I recently read: "We believe ... that Christ is present in any seeker after truth. Simone Weil has said that though a person may run as fast as he can away from Christ, if it is toward what he considers true, he runs in fact straight into the arms of Christ" (from For the Life of the World, by Alexander Schmemann).

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Life Is Heaven

I cried suddenly, speaking straight from my heart, "look around you at the gifts of God, the clear sky, the pure air, the tender grass, the birds; nature is beautiful and sinless, and we, only we, are sinful and foolish, and we don’t understand that life is heaven, for we have only to understand that and it will at once be fulfilled in all its beauty, we shall embrace each other and weep."

- Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov BlogBooster-The most productive way for mobile blogging. BlogBooster is a multi-service blog editor for iPhone, Android, WebOs and your desktop

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

iPhones Make Hypocrisy Fun

I write articles about spiritual disciplines. And you really can't do so without looking at the lives of the early fathers and mothers in the Church, whose lives help explain Christ's example of what living a disciplined life looks like. So in some ways I'm like a sports writer who wants to be like the athletes he so admires. Sometimes armchair ascesis is all I can muster. I'll be honest with you, it's difficult with little kids to have a daily rule of prayer. For instance. But ultimately the interruptions of kids are only another excuse.

That's a long lead in, with plenty of built-in excuses for my own weaknesses. Here's the story: I have written recently about Poverty and how there are some things I cannot justify having in my life that others have every right to own. The one thing I chose as an example of this was the iPhone. (O, sweet iPhone. How I've longed to hold thee in my chubby palms.) This is a device for whose expense I can find no justification (Ugh!) when there are people in need around me. Some people are helped mightily by these super smart phones, but my life is lived out in a different, slower part of life's stream. And then this summer, after I'd written this article using the iPhone as an example of living our lives in voluntary poverty for the good of others, my wife starts talking about a new phone. Hers is old. Spotty at best. Funky. And she is considering an iPhone. Ugh. Ugh. Now I don't mind her having one. It's a little expensive, but this summer we had the money and she, as I said, needed a phone. But I had to deal with my technolust for all things Apple, all things Jobian. I'd already been drooling over iPads, out of which I felt I could squeeze quite a bit of productivity, but had reconciled myself to not having one. I don't need one. And while visiting my family in Michigan, my brother tells me his school gave him one for free because he "volunteered" for something during a teacher meeting. Free.


Later my wife decides she's getting the iPhone. I say, "Don't get me one. I don't need it. I don't want it." But you know what she does? She forgoes the new iPhone 4G and, for the same price, gets two iPhone 3GS. -es. Now a better man, would have resisted and said No - or sent it back - but I am not a better man. So now I am the conflicted owner of an iPhone. I'm actually feeling my hypocrisy, the same hypocrisy that I regularly hide from myself fairly decently. I could have told my wife No, but I didn't. She said it wouldn't be any fun having one if I didn't have one too. And I have never been good at resisting her feminine wiles.

So it's her fault, dammit. The woman You gave me, she gave me the Apple.


C'est la vie. It's a sweet little device, regardless. You can't fault the woman for that.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Saint Aloysius Gonzaga (1568-1591)

I am a crooked piece of iron, and am come into religion to be made straight by the hammer of mortification and penance.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Anne Rice, Called Out of Darkness

I just finished Anne Rice's Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession. Let me tell you, I liked it. Of course, I like Anne Rice's writing. It's not all perfect, but some of it is brilliant. This is a good book. She was raised uber-Catholic (daily Mass, Tuesday night novenas, etc.) and yet left the Catholic Church and Christ to become an atheist for nearly forty years. And then she was gently called home by Christ. It's a great little autobiography.

She says some interesting things at the conclusion of her book. One of the things she brings up is the idea of gender and sexuality in the Catholic Church. She is at odds with the teaching of the Church here, and yet she's very quiet about it and, it seems to me, very humble about it. She doesn't demand the Church change anything, but suggests that perhaps our view of gender and sexuality needs to be informed by science much like our views of evolution or heliocentrism have been. Now to understand Anne, gender plays a huge role in who she is as a person and how she sees herself throughout the book (throughout her life). For years she never thought of herself as a girl, but simply as a person. Anne also has a son who is gay. So these ideas of gender and sexuality are important to her personally. But she's honest with it and she sincerely communicates, in spite of where she wishes the Church would change, her love for both Christ and Church. It's an altogether interesting little mix.

(On a related note, Avery was talking to me yesterday and said she was going to be a priest when she grew up. I explained to her that it wasn't possible, and her eyes fell and she told me it wasn't fair.)

This view of Anne's might be something offensive for some of you, but I don't think it ought to be. There are issues I have with Church teachings: I think after a half dozen children or so an occasional *ahem* condom shouldn't be considered grave sin in a financially challenged home. Yet I still do my best to be obedient and submit myself to the teaching of the Church. I may never completely understand why the Church teaches some things. My view of hell leans toward Orthodoxy, but I don't make an issue of it. And I like my Nicene Creed without the filioque, but I still happily pray the Creed with it when I worship with my brothers and sisters. These are areas of tension for me with our Church. But she is the Church. And I love her. And I want nothing but her. This is the same feeling I get from Anne Rice in her book with her "objections." It's worth the read.


And Happy Father's Day to you dads out there. To my dad especially (I love you so much). And to all our priests. And, of course, to our Father, God.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Weekly News, v. ?

Avery has tubes in her ears. I can't see the little blighters, but my eyes aren't what they used to be and I haven't really bothered looking. The surgery went smoothly and so far all seems well. She's complaining of all the loud noises. That seems to me good news. It does get terribly noisy with seven children in a small house now and again. Especially when it's too hot to play outside. Summers, sometimes, here are like a month of rainy days without rain slickers. Stuck inside the house, like firecrackers in clenched fists.

About one week left now until Everyday Is Saturday begins. I'm stoked. If teachers got paid well, teaching would totally rock. Or at least summers would. This summer I'm going to try to re-establish a couple of good disciplines I've gotten away from: daily writing, daily walking. I also want to finally teach Will how to ride a bike (if it's not too hot, otherwise he's on his own). And tie his shoes. And get Jack Henry potty trained. And read a few dozen books. I would like to get up to Michigan to see my family. It's been a while. I have two children now that half of my family has never even met. It would be nice to remedy the situation.

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Friday, June 11, 2010

Freedom and Discipline

In rejoinder to my depressing post on being tired and fat, here's a clip from Tom Howard's excellent book On Being Catholic:

It is the paradox in which obedience to rules, renunciation of various pleasures, and discipline turn out to be the very tactics by which freedom is gained. And further, it is the paradox in which this hard-won freedom turns out to be synonymous with joy and magnificence and perfection and beauty.

We may see these paradoxes at work at a thousand points. The ballet, for example: How has that ballerina achieved this supple and glorious mastery? Oh, would that my body looked like that and that I had the freedom to execute those breathtaking movements. How do they do it?

By obedience and renunciation and discipline. There is no other way. Thousands of hours, year after year, giving up this pleasure and that food, exercising in utter obscurity, placing oneself wholly under the rigorous direction of the master.

And the fruit of all that? Mastery. Control. Beauty. Perfection. And not only for the dancers themselves. The rest of us are the beneficiaries. Their prowess brings us joy. It hails us with truth in one of its modes, namely, the truth that attaches to man as body. In some sense, the form exhibited by Adam, new-made from clay, is a true form. We feel that the bodies of dancers are reminiscent of that form. The rest of us, full of potato chips and sour cream dips and nachos grande, must make shift to hobble about, wheezing and grunting, hauling our tremulous torsos and abdomens in and out of cars and up and down the stairs. Ah, would that I could move like that dancer, we mourn.


The paradox, of course, could be chased all through the fabric of human life. The freedom to do something is not easily won. The greater the perfection sought, the greater must be the remorselessness of our own self-abandon to the discipline that constitutes the steps up to the summit where freedom reigns in great bliss.

... Concupiscence has undone us.

Now Howard is moving into asceticism and love in this chapter titled, "Catholics and Freedom" - being schooled in Charity and the work involved, but his analogy is precise and apt for me today, especially in light of my recent foray into self-pity.

Since I am speaking of the book, I would highly recommend it. It is perhaps the best modern book written by a convert that I have so far read ("modern" so as not to compare it to such great works as St. Augustine's Confessions, or even to Chesterton's Orthodoxy) about what it means to be Catholic. There are issues that I have with parts of it, but overall it is well-written and beautiful and non-confrontational and certainly worth your time.

Friday, June 04, 2010


I am tired. I have been tired for some time. In the past two weeks, Catie, whose nighttime awakenings are strictly under my governorship, has slept through the night exactly twice. Which is terrific progress. Coincidentally, I awoke each of those perfect nights with a migraine around 3:00 a.m. and was unable to go back to sleep. (Blessings from the Lord.) Last night was the second of the two nights. And I laid in bed and sat on the couch with my hand pressed against my left temple numbly muttering, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me." Unfortunately, no hammer appeared mystically with which I could club myself into sweet slumber. I still have the headache and I am itching to wade out into the waist-high grass of my yard and yell, "Tired!" to my neighborhood and the universe. But it seems like such an enormous waste of energy.


Today is my son Will's sixth birthday. He has one week left of Kindergarten. I love him to death.

Tonight is Avery's final practice for her first Communion and tomorrow morning she'll be dressed in white. Her bejeweled shoes arrived in the mail today.


Let's be frank, I'm a fat man. And worse, somewhat hopelessly so. I wear my sin on my sleeve (and around my waist, chest, neck, buttocks and thighs). I've considered hibernating like a bear for the next three months, but then I get depressed thinking it would only be a good start. (And what if I woke up with nursing cubs?) To boot, I just saw Avatar for the first time this week and thought how wonderful it would be to be able to be that active (not to mention tall, blue and phosphorescent with a braided USB port growing out of my head). When you're fat you can't fly dragon-like creatures, you can't ride hummingbird horses, you can't walk around without a shirt, and getting the mail leaves you sweaty and breathless. Though I'm pretty good at hissing at people. I'm tired of being fat.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The World According to Jack

My three-year-old, Jack, was watching me shave yesterday morning before leaving for church. Small rivulets wended their way from razor to hand to the lowest place possible, my elbow, and dripped. "What's dat?" he asked.

"That's water dripping from my elbow," I said, trying not to cut off my ear.

"No," he said. "It's milk coming from your boobies. Dat one," indicating my right nipple, "has chocolate milk and dat one has juice."

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Knowledge and Communion

I'm busy this weekend, finishing up some articles and trying to spend some time with family on a holiday (national) weekend. And I have to mow. And in the midst of it, busily looking forward to next week, which is one of the crazier weeks of our year. Here's the rundown: Monday is Memorial Day (of course). Sophie is turning 11 on Tuesday. Will is turning 6 on Friday. And on Saturday Avery will receive her first Holy Communion. Her final two practices for receiving the Blessed Sacrament are, drumroll please, on Sophie and Will's birthdays. So it's going to be crazy. But crazy good. I don't know yet if we'll postpone birthday celebrations and take care of it all on Saturday or shift the birthday celebrations to different dates, but it will work out. The kids enjoy having their birthdays spread out over several days anyway.


There's an article/post that has been rattling around in my brain for over a week now. I'm not going to link to it here because it would be offensive to many, as it was - to some degree - to me. It's rather harsh concerning the Evangelical idea of one's necessity to having a "personal relationship with Jesus." But partly because of it I've been re-evaluating my previous notions on cultural Catholicism, religion per se and the like - on knowledge and the Faith. I'm not so sure ignorance is always such a bad thing. What does it really matter whether my children can recite the books of the Bible? On the other hand, I know that knowledge is often not a good thing. I was raised in an environment where Scriptural knowledge is power - and there's something terribly perverse and manipulative about that. There is a knowing that's good, of course, as we come to know God and be known by him, but that knowing can happen perhaps more in our homes and everyday life and even in a cultural Catholicism or in "religion" than in our ability (as we think of it) to properly exegete the Scriptures, to know the Scriptures by chapter and verse, or to even know a particular teaching is found in the Scriptures. Does it matter more that I know the arguments surrounding justification and where my church community stands on such arguments or that I am justified? Does it make a difference whether I read that I must love my enemies or that my Church teaches me to love my enemies? I'm not saying that the Scriptures have no place. Certainly not! But I am saying that we often imagine that every Christian must have a grasp of them that is unnecessary for a pipe-fitter or stay-at-home dad or mathematician, or that it is somehow not enough for a Christian to simply hear God's Word in Liturgy - even though hearing is how the early Church, which many of us so desire to emulate, received the Scriptures; hearing is how most Christians throughout history received the Scriptures. There is nothing wrong with simply hearing the Scriptures.

That being said, is it good to be able to have the Scriptures in my home, important for me to read them? I think so. But only for the purpose of seeing Christ. The Scriptures are iconic. They are not for the purpose of lording something (an idea, a doctrine, a view of science) over another believer. They are not ever for the purpose of discovering who is Christian and who is not. They can never show us something contrary to what has been faithfully passed down to us by the Church. They proclaim Christ, who shows us the Father. And the Spirit reveals it to us - not as something new or different or never-before-thought-of, which is nearly always of the devil, but as freshening as and in the humility of a summer rain. The Scriptures should never be, as they often have been to me, an ammunition depot. The Scriptures should never be a place where I am elevated above my brother or my sister. The Scriptures should never teach me anything other than to love my enemy and my neighbor. If I learn something else from them, I have mis-learned or mis-read them. The Scriptures will never teach me anything contrary to "God is love." If I have learned something other from them, I have mis-learned or mis-read them.

It is enough to find Christ in Liturgy, to participate in his life there. We hope and pray that many are given special vocations to go and do and be something extraordinary for God. To truly become saints in their vocations. But sainthood can be found in being ordinary too, thanks be to God. In quiet and simplicity. In giving alms and in praying. In fasting. In attending Liturgy. In raising children. We too must become saints, ordinary saints living in ordinary time. Sainthood is found in my vocation and not in another's. It is found in becoming nothing rather than in the desire to do something. Becoming a saint is communion with God - indeed that is salvation. It is not necessary for a saint to have memorized the Psalter or the Gospels or to be able to defend the faith. It is enough to know Christ. To know him in field and flower. To know him in Liturgy. To know him in obedience and love. To know him in the dishes that need washing and the floors that need sweeping. It is enough to know Christ.

I heard a story once, and my memory of it has faded - so forgive the errors of my recounting - of a monk who while reading the Scriptures, stopped abruptly, and closed them. He had read that he must love his enemies and refused to open the Scriptures again. When he was asked why he would not read more of the Scriptures, his response was that until he had learned to obey the Scripture he had read, it was unnecessary (and perhaps foolhardy) for him to read any more. There is something illustrative in this story for us, something that we have lost in our elevation of the importance of knowing the Scriptures.

It was St. Jerome who said, "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ." But I do not think he meant what we think he meant, framing it as we do. Knowledge is a tool. It is not knowledge that we seek, it is communion. Knowledge serves communion. When it ceases to serve communion and life, then it becomes a wicked tool bent on wicked purposes.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

On Why My Razor Will Get Me to Heaven Faster than Yours, and Other Thoughts

Perhaps, economically, your girly little disposable razors come near the affordability of a Parker, but my Blessed Parker treats hair - and, consequently, my face at times - as of no consequence. It cuts through whatever you will. Heavy beard - bring it. Not a problem for my Parker. It doesn't pull my beard out or snag in it. It's as sharp as a razor, girls. And if you grow a beard as fast as a 12 year old, like me - then it might just have to pwn your face too. No extra charge. But that's just part of the package. How else are you going to learn to shave properly if there ain't nothing at stake? And my Parker, thank you very much, is completely environmentally friendly. No Deepwater-type disasters from this baby. Now might someone dig up one of my rusty razors and slice into his fingers or palm resulting in a disabled hand or, at the very least, tetanus? Absolutely, but some kids have to learn the hard way. Stop digging near my children's swingset. All I'm saying is you won't find it in a pelican's gizzard 10,000 years down the road.


Avery has her first first Communion rehearsal tonight. I suppose I should shower sometime before then. And maybe shave. Avery, by the way, will be having tubes put in her ears next month. So please remember her in your prayers (if you disposable razor types even pray). She's quite unnerved by it all. She also is having problems with her throat - the pediatrician doesn't know what's wrong - says it can't be strep since she's been through two doses of amoxicillin recently (one for strep, one for scarlet fever). She's had a hard time. One tonsil has been swollen out to her uvula for at least a month. Pray to St. Blaise for her.

Speaking of Sacraments, Noah will be baptized at the end of June. Noah will be saved through water (and the Spirit) as Noah was.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

39 Going On Thrifty

I was at The Store That Shall Not Be Named a few weeks ago shopping for razor blade cartridges. Now since I began shaving, I have used some kind of Gillette razor, and was shopping for some cartridges for my Fusion razor. I pushed my cart and children to the proper aisle, and though I have bought razor blade cartridges before, I was shocked: Four blade cartridges in one package cost $15. And the freaky little things are locked away as if they are pot or something. So, like, I have to ask for help? That's $3.75 per cartridge! I was speechless. Why stunned this late in the game, you wonder, after spending years and countless dollars to purchase these little cartridges? I have no idea. Though I have been reading the early Fathers on voluntary Poverty. I can't picture St. John Chrysostom shelling out enough money to feed a third-world child for a month so that he could be clean-shaven. It's no wonder all the early Fathers were bearded. Buying these cartridges is almost un-Christian, I thought. Why not buy condoms while I was at it?! And then, as I was standing in the same aisle with two of my little ones piled into a cart like so much merchandise, I saw the double-edged razor blades my dad uses: Ten blades for $1.67. Of course The Store That Shall Not Be Named doesn't sell the razors, just the blades. So I found something completely frivolous to spend my $15 on and then went home and ordered a nice razor, a Parker 91R, for a little less than $30 - with 20 razor blades included. 20 cartridges for my old razor would have cost nearly $75, if I've done my math correctly.

When my Parker 91R arrived in that little Amazon box that I so love, I tossed my Gillettes. I've only used the Parker three times so far (I don't shave often as a stay-at-home Dad - it's one of the perks). I do, however, need to shave at least once a week, for the Lord's sake. While shaving today (I have to take a child to the pediatrician), in some bit of a hurry, I beat myself up good. After shaving, it looked as if a light bulb had blown up in my face. And after applying little pieces of toilet paper to my face so that I wouldn't bleed out in the sink, my face looked like that little bear's ass on those Charmin commercials. (Yes, right now my face looks like the butt of a bear who wipes with cheap toilet paper.)

Yet while I nearly took off my nose today, all I could think about was the money I was saving. How sweet is that? And wouldn't God be pleased? It shouldn't take more than a couple of years to get used to this, well, weapon. And around that same time I might even be ready to open the second package of blades that came with the razor. Man, I am such a good Christian.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


I didn't want you to miss a post by Fr. Stephen Freeman that I'm sharing in my sidebar. It's titled, "The Struggle for True Communion." Some of my family and friends have in the past expressed to me their frustration concerning why they can't or shouldn't receive Holy Communion when visiting a Catholic or Orthodox Church. I understand their frustration, especially given the openness of Communion in many Protestant church communities today. It is not because they have no communion with Christ. It is not because we are better Christians than they, or holier. I regret that I cannot share in Holy Communion with Fr. Stephen, who is Orthodox, or with my family, who remain Protestant. But his post, in my estimation, says well why we are sometimes told "No."

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Another Rundown

Life with a new baby can take some time getting used to. This week has been one of those transitions in our family as my wife headed back to work and I was home with three little ones. All of whom are in diapers. Now the diaper changing isn't so bad. Honestly. Well, some diapers are. Some I dream of mounting on my office wall, shellacked, to show off to visitors:"Now let me tell you the story about this one over here - flailing heels, the baby screaming ... crap everywhere." But for the most part the diaper changing is the least of a lonely stay-at-home parent's worries. It's everything else. It's being consumed by the needs of others. And while this is a good - being saved/deified through childbirth - it is, by definition, very difficult.

With Noah's entrance into our daily life, something strange happened in my brain. For weeks, every time I looked at him, I thought "Robert" instead of "Noah." Now we have never had any intention of naming a boy Robert - it was pure brain flatulence. But it was the strangest thing and took me nearly a month to get over. I also constantly referred to him as a her, which can probably be understood as we also just had a girl last January. He is sweet, however, even though he cries much of the time. Long story short, I'm getting older. It's really quite a miracle that I can still make babies. By the time Noah is my age, I will probably be dead. But I hope not.

By the way, we have officially become a large family. So our new 12-passenger van silently proclaims us. Yes, we are weird. Yes, we are different. People wonder at the size of our family when just half of us go somewhere. Our carbon footprint is bigger than yours. Officially, the oil SNAFU in the Gulf is our fault, our responsibility, and BP, Transocean and Halliburton might as well get their stories straight and start blaming us. (To be frank, you're responsible for that mess as well.)


We had friends surprise visit us on Saturday. These are people who speak peace into your soul, like an afternoon in the shade on a breezy pre-summer day. We are sad they couldn't stay longer. We are sad that they no longer live near us.


I want to be Catholic. Simply Catholic. I don't want to be an American Catholic. I don't want to be a traditionalist or a progressive. I don't want to be a neo-Cath or an Evangelical Catholic. I just want to be Catholic - part of Christ's Body, a lover of God and my neighbor. Not defined by my politics or my past, but liberated by Christ to be Catholic. Sacramental. Orthodox. Quiet. Who can show me the way? What does being Catholic mean? What does it look like?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tragedy and Perspective

Today I was listening to a fundamentalist Christian radio station that I used to listen to quite religiously. The president of the radio station spoke briefly today about the flooding in Nashville and that a radio tower of theirs had been ruined in the flood. He addressed why bad things sometimes happen to good people with, I imagine, a shrug of his shoulders and the statement, "God sends rain on the just and the unjust alike." And he spoke about how the Enemy is always trying to undermine the work of God.

But who are the just and who are the unjust? And why use this verse to say that sometimes bad things happen to good people when Christ is speaking of our need to be impartial and prodigal in our love toward others since God is impartial and prodigal in his love toward us? How can this be both the impartiality of God and the work of the Enemy? Are they the same? I also marveled at one's confidence in proclaiming one's own work as God's work. But putting all that aside, much of what he said could be spot on. Then I realized why his statements seemed so odd to me - in tragedies by which we Christians are unaffected we don't often say, "Shit happens." (My paraphrase of the misinterpreted verse.) Though it would be an appropriate conjecture, and the more appropriate time to use it. Sometimes, tragically, we are too quick to count the tragedy that affects others as the judgment of God rather than as happenstance or as God's impartiality or even as the work of the Enemy. Perhaps we would be better served to reverse our perspectives: When tragedy strikes me, I should wonder at the judgment of God and humbly acknowledge that his judgments are just (have mercy on me, a sinner). And when tragedy strikes my neighbor, I should understand that sometimes bad things happen to good people, pray, and find a way to help.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Slideshow in Sidebar

I updated the slideshow in the sidebar with pics of brother Noah.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The First Day of Spring

Noah Christopher: 6:45 p.m. 20.5 inches. 7 pounds, 11 ounces. Photos to follow.

Mama and baby doing fine.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Mad as a Hatter

I've had very little sleep this week. I'm just warning you is all. The following may not be entirely coherent.

The baby is going to be here very soon. Last night was a contender for the birth date, but Laura feels better today. We'll see how she feels tonight. According to the doctor the due date is the 22nd, though the Ides of March was the original due date. It got shoved back. I am partial to the 15th simply for its Shakespearean value, but that may have little bearing on the date of the actual birth. Either way, the baby is full term and we've had other babies weeks early before. I suppose we'll wait to see.

We are expecting a boy, as that is what the ultrasound technician told us, and we have a name chosen, though it is not written in stone - it seems to change every couple of weeks. (To think that the name you so identify with, which is so much part of who you think you are, came down to the will of two very tired people who forget things constantly and dress rather badly can numb one's mind.) We think his name will be Samuel David, though it very well might not be.

Seven children. Who'd have ever thunk it? Lord, have mercy.

Speaking of Lent, it has become one of my favorite seasons in the Church Calendar - this call to come home is a precious, needful thing, and I am so very thankful for it. The call is year-round, of course, a silent presence behind the noise of our lives. It says, "I am here. I will wait for you." Patient Lover, who can resist your graces?

I've been writing some articles on poverty over at Tyndale's NLT site, and the early Church Fathers have been speaking quite loudly to me (they always seem to when you give them their say), Saint John Chrysostom in particular. I give too little thought about so much of what I do, about so much of how I live. My life, after all, is not lived terribly different than most Americans' lives. And yet so much of what I do is avaricious. Like having a full pantry and fuller closets. Like being isolated from the needs of my neighbors. I could go on. I probably should. Read Chrysostom's Homily 6 on Titus sometime to get a feel for what I'm thinking about these days. At one point in his homily, he talks about the impediment that riches are and the liberty that poverty brings - as illustration he talks about a nekkid man and a fully clothed man (think flowing garments and robes). Who is easier to catch, he asks? Homecoming and greased pigs is all I could think of, but it's pertinent, isn't it? I also thought of Mark, running off nekkid from the soldiers. Perhaps such is what Chrysostom had in mind. "Almsgiving," he says, "is the mother of love." And I'll stop with the following quote from another saint:

"The Lord's mercies are innumerable. Look at all the earth supplies in summer and in autumn! Every Christian ... ought to imitate God's bountifulness. Let your table be open to everybody, like the table of the Lord. The avaricious is God's enemy" (St. John of Kronstadt, from My Life in Christ, Pt. 1).

Live Jesus. Practice Poverty. Give alms.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Hans Urs von Balthasar's Threefold Garland

If you have not read this little book, let me highly recommend it. I am slowly reading and re-reading the chapters covering the sorrowful mysteries during Lent and am amazed at the depth of Balthasar's thought. The book considers the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary - meditations on Christ's birth, death, and resurrection; and meditations on the Mother of God - and, while approachable, is theological meat from beginning to end. (Licit even on a Friday in Lent.) More later, I hope.

Friday, February 19, 2010

I Am More Guilty Than These

The latest news of pedophilia in the Catholic Church in Ireland has left me broken. I make the kids' lunch, sweep my floor, and listen to the interviews on the radio; and in my mind I play out that on-going argument with Protestant family and friends on how this terrible sin could occur within a "holy" Church and why sin by members of the Church, even heinous sin, does not rob her of her holiness. And after I have done with my mental arguments, I sweep them into the trash. What argument is there to make? Who am I to be concerned with arguments at moments such as these?

Remember, O man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.

The sin of pedophilia committed by these men and the sin of hiding their sins and passing the men on to other parishes by other men, these are my sins. And I am more guilty yet.

" 'And I shall also tell you, dear mother, that each of us is guilty in everything before everyone, and I most of all.' At that mother even smiled, she wept and smiled: 'How can it be,' she said, 'that you are the most guilty before everyone? There are murderers and robbers, and how have you managed to sin so that you should accuse yourself most of all?' 'Dear mother, heart of my heart,' he said (he had then begun saying such unexpected, endearing words), 'heart of my heart, my joyful one, you must know that verily each of us us guilty before everyone, for everyone and everything. I do not know how to explain it to you, but I feel it so strongly that it pains me. And how could we have lived before, getting angry, and not knowing anything?' Thus he awoke every day with more and more tenderness, rejoicing and all atremble with love."

- "From the Life of the Elder Zosima," The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Post-Valentine Post That Has Nothing to Do With Valentine's Day

So my pictures are old. My blog is somewhat in disrepair, to be sure, ungroomed by its master, unfed. Kicked around some. But that's just where I am. Why should I post my thoughts online when I can do the job with pen and paper, just as well? The answer, I suppose, is family and friends more than anything - those who bother, those who are interested in the latest details of my quiet, quiet life (other than the screaming children, of course). But I stand guilty of negligence - I don't deny it is true. The slideshow, by the way, is entirely outdated. My daughter Cate, the baby in the slides, is now taking steps and exploring her world. So I need an update. But before I get to it, which may take a while, let me get to updating all y'all.

This weekend started with two inches of snow. I had to drive twenty minutes up the road to the nearest toy dispensary (the evil Wal-mart) to buy toys for Jack Henry, who turned three years old on Saturday. The highway was a sheet of ice and 4WD is not much help in such scenarios. But I persisted and made it safely, with very little drifting across lanes, and acquired the toys. I had Anna, Avery and Will with me and we ate breakfast at the in-store eatery (the evil McDonald's). By the time we came home, the ice was completely gone, leaving only some spotty slush along turn lanes.

Yesterday, in case you missed it, was Valentine's Day. I went to early Mass, taught Faith Formation, and then attended a catechist meeting. My family stayed home because my wife was not about to troll around Lexington for three hours with a truck full of loud children and a belly full of a 9-month-large boy. (Our seventh child is ominously due around the Ides of March.) I got home and we had a new cat. The same cat/kitten that has been driving me nutso for over a week with his crying outside my doors, begging to be fed and let in. The crying arose after my wife fed him and because my children, when home, are outside loving on him. My wife even said a prayer to St. Francis of Assisi about the cat - and she is not in the habit of praying to saints - so while I was gone, my newly-three-year-old boy, let the cat in. And in he stayed. I named him Francis because I figured the good saint deserved it. I honestly don't know if the cat will make it, as all he does is sleep. Laura will have to take him out to the vet one of these days. (We only have one functional vehicle at the moment, if you haven't yet caught up.) But Francis is quiet and seemingly content. And he seems entirely unphased by all the hissing and spitting from our 7-year-old cat, Talullah. He just stares at her, like he would a log. So he has some chutzpah, which is laudable, I suppose. Though he could be too sick to care if an older cat rips him apart. However, he will need "tutoring" if he remains, in the Larsonian sense of the word, if you know what I mean.

Lastly, I am currently struggling through a particular teaching of the Church. Pray for me, if you will. I feel as if the Church demands something of me and is unwilling to help with the burden she lays on my shoulders. Of course, I also understand that the Church expects things of me for my salvation. But I am confused at the moment. And there are also times I feel as if God has kicked me to the curb over this one, since the issue is far thornier due to the abnormal arrangement of my life. I am weak and often find it difficult to trust. So this is a matter I am taking to prayer over Lent, which begins Wednesday. The Orthodox seem more reasonable on this issue, more in line with the spirit of the law in question, than does my own Church. Alas, I am not Orthodox. Which may be a good thing as I would not be eating any meat or dairy for the next few weeks if I were.

Perhaps in the days to come, it will be something I feel I can more freely divulge here, but I'd rather talk to flesh-and-blood people about it first. Including God. Lord, have mercy. Right now it's not a conversation so much as it is a personal struggle.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Accidie: The Bad Thought

I don't know how many of you are prone to accidie, or acedia. I am. It is the bad thought of the monastic life, and other than leaving my family and becoming a monk, there is no place more monastic than being a stay-at-home parent (especially those of us who are relatively homebound). Accidie is not quite apathy. It is not quite sloth, though the two are related. Accidie, how I experience it, is a kind of weariness. It's something other than depression that is caused by real, physical changes within our bodies and the chemistry of our brains, but the two are interrelated. I have been sick for over a month now - nothing serious, just a persistent cough that often leaves me with a headache. It's physically wearisome and spiritually as well. After an extended illness (last year it was headaches that ate up at least one half of January), I begin pondering death - not suicide, but death. I wonder whether "This is the big one!" (a la Fred Sanford) and I listen to stories of this one or that one who died around my age. I feel hopeless and purposeless and weary. It is the edge of despair; it is the erosion of trust.

And then I buy a book on the sayings of the Desert Fathers and as I am browsing through the index, the word accidie jumps out at me. I'm familiar with it. I've written about it. I know that it is a bad thought that I am prone to and I realize that I have succumbed once again to this demon of weariness. Let me share a story told by Amma Theodora about accidie, or acedia:

"It is good to live in peace, for the wise man practices perpetual prayer. It is truly a great thing for a virgin or a monk to live in peace, especially for the younger ones. However, you should realize that as soon as you intend to live in peace, at once evil comes and weighs down your soul through accidie, faintheartedness, and evil thoughts. It also attacks your body through sickness, debility, weakening of the knees, and all the members. It dissipates the strength of soul and body, so that one believes one is ill and no longer able to pray.

But if we are vigilant, all these temptations fall away. There was, in fact a monk who was seized by cold and fever every time he began to pray, and he suffered from headaches, too. In this condition, he said to himself, 'I am ill, and near to death; so now I will get up before I die and pray.' By reasoning in this way, he did violence to himself and prayed, When he had finished, the fever abated also. So, by reasoning in this way, the brother resisted, and prayed and was able to conquer his thoughts."

It sounds so morbid, but it resonated so clearly within me: Well, if I'm about to die, I had better start praying. And then one does violence to him or herself in prayer and, through the suffering, resists the bad thought of accidie.

Pray always. And sometimes, pray for me.