what we're about

Attempts to illuminate our brief mortal existence

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Lent, Day 8: Christopher

It's Lent, and my posts in these past few days are distinctly Lenten posts.  Today, however, I can't find it within myself to write another post about crosses, or struggles, or the nitty gritty implications of the Christian walk.  Today, this day, this lovely day, is my Christopher Luke's first birthday.

I love this baby, this would-be-a-toddler-if-he-decided-to-walk Little Guy.  I love his pure joy at waking up in the morning, and his utter delight at peering over the edge of his pack-n-play to discover - again - his still sleeping parents.  I love his giggles games, his outright chortles over peek-a-boo, and his screaming laughter over "chase."  Everything is new for him.  It blows his mind that he can move wooden beads along a maze of wires.  He thinks it's hilarious when the toy that disappeared behind my back reappears on the other side.  He wants to drop the same toy, or book, or rag on the floor over and over again because he just cannot believe that it falls down every. single. time.

I am utterly charmed just watching him putter around the living room, investigating every loose piece of paper sticking out from a shelf, experimenting with what happens when you push on the books on the shelf, discovering all over again a fascinating toy, being suddenly distracted by a more fascinating piece of shiny junk, chewing thoughtfully on a wooden block.  My heart nearly explodes with delighted satisfaction at the joy of seeing him crawl efficiently off to inspect the hallway and the other rooms of the apartment for any toys or random objects left within reach.  He is most endlessly fascinating when he is ignoring me.

I love doing life with him, as frustrating as it is.  He sits on the edge of the sink while I wash dishes - his back against the microwave, his feet dangling into the rinse sink - experimenting with the physics of the clean dishes that I stack on his side of the sink, and dabbing his feet in the running water when I rinse those dishes.  Laundry day is a personal favorite of his; there are so many ways for him to help, from dropping dirty socks into drawers of clean clothing, to adding folded t-shirts back into the basket of unfolded laundry.  When I go grocery shopping with him, he leaves a trail of smiles in the wake of his adorableness.

This child, this squeezable, kissable, beautiful, crazy-making child is bursting with Life.  This is the promise; this is why we go through Lent.  Life abundant is the only things that makes the cross worthwhile.  Suffering in and of itself is pointless.  Death left to its own devices is ignoble.  Sacrifice without hope is foolish.  Only in the Resurrection looming large beyond them do they gain significance, nobility, and wisdom.  We embrace Lent not because we love Lent, but because we have to get through Lent to come to Easter.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Lent, Day 7: Real Love

"The way of Christian holiness is, in any case, hard and austere.  We must fast and pray.  We must embrace hardship and sacrifice, for the love of Christ, and in order to imporve the condition of man on earth. ...It is not enough to make pious gestures.  Our love of God and of man cannot be merely symbolic, it has to be completely real.  It is not just a mental operation, but the gift and commitment of our inmost self."
- Thomas Merton, Love and Holiness

This is all that there is to say today.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Lent, Day 6: Courage for little things

I'm wearing around my neck right now a handmade silver crucifix.  I picked it up a year or two ago at a Catholic bookstore in Lafayette, IN.  I was not at the time even considering a move towards Catholicism, but I had been mysteriously gripped by an intuition that there was something more to the Cross than what I understood, something as yet undiscovered.  I bought the crucifix as a way to wear the death of Christ, to keep it before me, so that I would not forget to keep examining this mystery.

Nearly two years after first writing about discovering this mystery, one tiny corner of it has been made clear to me.  The light has dawned slowly, as I've read book after book on a faith that I thought I knew, started praying new, awkward prayers, and experienced one moment of sudden, desperate longing on an ordinary Sunday morning.  As the dust has begun to settle after the years of spiritual upheaval, I find myself looking around at a strange, new, beautiful landscape - one completely dominated by the Cross.  And I realize that this mystery is my calling to come and die, and that it's shrouded in fog because God knows that I can't handle it all.  I used to be confident in my ability to die for God, whether physically or spiritually, but that was 10 years ago;  I thought that I was brave, then.  Now, my very being flinches away from this call.  I don't know what it means, exactly, and I don't want to.  What I do know, is something of the shape of the ground in front of me.  

Right in front of me, my very first step in this call to come and die, is a renewal of my determination to embrace the struggles of my vocation.  And as small as they sometimes are, as easy as they might be for someone else, and as insignificant as they may look, these struggles are hard enough for me.  A part of me, the whiniest, most demanding, most self-centered and fearful part of me is going to have to climb up on the cross every single day just for this patch of ground.  For all I know, I might never progress further than this in this life.  But the grace is there; I know that it is.  I know that I have been made strong enough just for these struggles.  And it's Thomas Merton, again, who is giving me the necessary kick in the pants:
"If we are called by God to holiness of life, and if holiness is beyond our natural power to achieve (which it certainly is) then it follows that God himself must give us the light, the strength, and the courage to fulfill the task he requires of us.  He will certainly give us the grace we need.  If we do not become saints it is because we do not avail ourselves of his gift."
- Merton, Love and Holiness 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Lent Day 3: Grace and Sacraments

It was probably a differing understanding of sacraments that first began to nudge me away from being fully Anabaptist, and these days I find myself increasingly resonating with a fully Catholic understanding of sacraments (at least as far as I understand this understanding).  Yet another layer was added to that resonance when I began reading Love and Holiness, by Thomas Merton.  Merton  begins right in the introduction talking about grace:
"Grace, the power and the light of God in us, purifying our hearts, transforming us in Christ, making us true sons of God, enabling us to act in the world as his instruments for the good of all men and for his glory."
- Thomas Merton, Love and Holiness
Just grace.  I've read this before in the work of authors such as Brennan Manning, and although I've never doubted it, there's always been something frustrating about the way that it's presented; there's a frighteningly ungraspable quality to it.  By contrast, as I read on, Merton feels practical, very practical for someone who's supposed to be a dangerous mystic.  The difference, I believe, comes down to Merton's inescapably Catholic understanding of our relationship with grace.

In the Mennonite church and its attendant subcultures where I grew up, I was given to understand (whether this was the intent of those teaching or no) that grace was this thing that was just out there, floating around.  It was available, of course; when you needed it you prayed for it.  And then you either assumed that it was there, and therefore you should be able to work harder at whatever your difficulty was, or you tried to summon up the feeling of it being there to help you along.  This is what I mean by "ungraspable".

When I read Merton, however, knowing the understanding of the relationship of sacraments and grace that lies behind his writing, the talk of grace - living by grace, drawing on grace, being changed, renewed, and made holy by grace - there's something for me to grasp at.  When I look through the Catholic lenses that I've been trying on, I can see the concrete ways that grace happens.  , Baptism, communion, marriage, even confession - I know where to go to find the grace that I need.  Not, of course, as though I'm pulling some heavenly lever for the distribution of my sugar water, but a concrete way for me to order myself to receive what is already there.  After all, as my RCIA leader told us, it's not God that needs the sacraments, it's us.  Physical actions, signs that enact what they signify.  If, as I'm told, I'm swimming in an ocean of God's grace, the sacraments give me a way to open my mouth and drink it in.  

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ash Wednesday

           Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return. - Genesis 3:19
An activity that is based on the frenzies and impulsions of human ambition is a delusion and an obstacle to grace (8).   - Thomas Merton, Love and Holiness
Although I didn't make it to an Ash Wednesday service today, at RCIA tonight I sat in a room full of people with the ashes of death marked on their foreheads.  Dust to dust. Life ends.  Death comes. And when it does, the things that I do to please and impress others, the activites that I undertake to placate my own aching soul, and even good deeds done with the subtle expectation of transaction - these will fall to dust and ashes along with my body.

Kyrie, eleison.  Christe, eleison.