Sunday, October 27, 2013

Change in the Heart of Faith

No one week is like another, least of all the last week.

I said to Father in confession this week, The devil is clever, and quick. You have to be like a tennis player, darting to return his shots. Father replied, wisely, Yes, but where does the tennis player return, but to the center, to be ready.

I think I am ready, but I have surrendered the center, or such as most people would recognize it as such. I feel attenuated. Stressed and beaten, or stressed and alive and fighting. Rarely do I feel relief, the kind of relief that allows one to say that everything is okay.

Can one dwell in this state? or, is that the goal of life, to feel content? Every best fiber of me says, No. There is no reason to feel content, or "okay." Not in this life. This lie is a trial. A place of purpose, of work and sorrow and joy and hope and defeat and testing and the occasional victory.

It's worth reflecting on the lives of the Saints - or perhaps simply famous intellectuals, politicians, etc. Offhand, I cannot recall anyone who is famous for feeling content. Quite the reverse!

I should be content to feel contentment where I can. God knows there are so many souls who never do! So, where do I feel this?

After every Mass.

After writing to the purpose of addressing my faith.

And here and there in my life. But, in many parts, I am unhappy. Ah. But even this seems to me, at my more lucid moments, to be to a purpose. I think I might explore dwelling in that state of mind as a kind of mechanism. But that is hard for me. I take my feelings seriously. I weep at Communion, I am stone-cold at personal displays, even to a purpose, as for art.

For art, but art for what? I ask that question not to question artists, but to question the world.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Busy at the Stations - a Practice of Place

I do not complain when I say I am busy. I do not say it is wrong, or that I wish it were otherwise. Oh, I imagine and plan little get-aways - a day off of work, a motorcycle trip - but 9 times out of 10 I follow the routine.

Do I work too hard? I certainly tell myself that I do! That, too - that exercise, or performance - is a kind of leave-taking. I wake up after a hard day ready for another, sometimes weirdly motivated.

Church activities and my faith-practice, including the several blogs I maintain, play a role in all this. But perhaps it is these activities that have led me to accept being busy, in the way I am, as my portion in life. Catholics have a handy device in hand, by which they can view their difficulties as their personal trial, their "cross to bear." Now anyone who reads the bible can draw the same inference, but Catholics, being encouraged to form a rather incredibly personal bond with the Lord, find special strength, I think, in this convention.

This bond, this identification with the Lord, this eagerness to share His burden, this ultimate devotion to follow his Way, led quite logically to the Sacraments (the Eucharist pops to mind, of course) and sacramentals, such as Stations of the Cross.

Practicing the Stations of the Cross (Click HERE for a nice explanation) has taught me to accept my life and to persevere more than any single other experience. I make it a point to walk the Stations once a month - once a week during Lent. There is no clearer, deeper, more wide-open text for describing one's life in the here and now than in entering the Lord's passion. Everything is here to see and be witness to - there are no secrets in this public display of mercy, humiliation, admonishment, suffering, death, release, and glory.

Analogous to Heraclitus' paradoxical river, I have never walked the Stations in the same way twice. Whatever my mood - expectant and aware, or tired and dutiful - the experience describes itself uniquely, whether in terms of the nature of the Passion, or in terms of one's own trials, or in combination. And, having performed the Stations - what, 2 or 3 dozen times now - I feel I have only scratched the surface of what I can learn and experience.

For example, yesterday I was struck by the groupings of the Stations in terms of clustered narratives, almost like Chapters, which one could look at individually for meaning and portent. The third, fourth, and fifth Stations, where our Lord meets his Blessed Mother, where Simon the Cyrene is pressed into service, and here Veronica wipes His face, are a compelling plaintive trilogy. I am always that I need to accept others' help here, as well as to be willing to step out of my life to do whatever I can to help others, even in an ostensibly "lost cause."

Then, after all this, He falls a second time, a chilling recollection of His purpose. Then, in the seventh Station, he admonishes the women of Israel. Now you might expect that a man who has fallen twice and been pitied on the way to being crucified might have had the starch taken out of him. But, as we all know, Jesus Christ was not merely a man. This Station and occurrence struck me yesterday more than it has before, and even now I am turning it over and over in my mind, letting it settle into me, seeking means of understanding and accommodation

So, I do not want to go through all the Stations here, except to point out how they function one against the other, or in unison, and that, taking all this very, very personally is a valuable practice. I can say for certain that the tendency to resent difficult days is being evenly, steadily, driven away from me. I am therefore more productive and I suppose happier. I hope I am a better friend for it, a better companion to those with whom I share this time, this bit of planet.

Would I do as well if I were to stay home and "rest"? I think not. I believe that certain kinds of doings in the midst of being busy are exactly what is required to relieve one's anxiety. To put a point on it, I believe that resentment is the real enemy, by which a person cuts themselves off from feelings of love.  This enemy, then, is not work. It is what we allow ourselves to make of our work. To call it ours; to call it our own; to take it inside of ourselves; to own it; to allow it to own us. This is the garden of resentment, paradise refused.