what we're about

Attempts to illuminate our brief mortal existence

Saturday, September 28, 2013

I struggle

Way back in the day, I chose "struggle" as my word for the year.  At the time I wasn't quite certain of what all that entailed, although I had a pretty good idea that it had something to do with housework and generally bringing some order into my life.  Now, almost ten months into that year, the focus has shifted a little bit from that, to struggling with making an effort in somewhat less survival oriented areas.

Recently, I've been trying to focus more intentionally on three things: writing, knitting/crafting, and parenting (not necessarily in that order).  And it is hard.  Although these things have been a part of my life for varying degrees of "a while" now, I've been fairly laid back about them, partly because trying is more difficult than just letting things happen and working with what you get, and also because sometimes you fail.  These things freak me out.  I'm scared of getting so wrapped up in perfectionism that I take another extended blogging hiatus.  I'm afraid of ruining my wrists and coming to hate knitting.  And I am terrified of regretting overly ambitious and stringent parenting 20 years from now.  Combine this fear with the normal resistance that I'm running into as I try to be more purposeful about goals and methods in these areas, and it is making my head spin.  And that is where the real struggle comes in.

It's normal for me to think, when I am tired, discombobulated, internally dizzy, that there must be something wrong.  Surely there is something that I have to change in order to feel again the security and peace of internal equilibrium.  Maybe, I think, I'm not focusing my priorities correctly; maybe I'm getting my relationships wrong; maybe there's some undiscovered sin in all of this.  In a lot of previous battles this is where I would have pulled back, certain that something this uncomfortable couldn't be right.  I'm slowly learning, however, that sometimes - like now - I feel tired, discombobulated, and internally dizzy not because something's wrong, but because I am growing.  I'm being stretched, and pushed.  I'm entering a new mini-phase in my life, and I'm not yet quite certain how to handle the attendant successes, failures, and tensions.  As tempting as it is, then, to retreat a little bit, to surrender even my ever-so-slightly elevated expectations, I'm going to try living with some tension, a little bit of mess.  Instead of bowing out, I'll take a break, ice up some sprains, and keep moving struggling.  

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Destined for Himself

"There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun."
- Thomas Merton

I have a hard time seeing the reality of other people.  I'm self-centered, partly by temperament, partly by sin, and partly by circumstance, and other people occur to me mainly as the effect that they have on myself.  And since I live so much in my head, and the truth of other people is so difficult for me to see, God is starting me small, with one person, maybe three, and the realization of a simple truth about them: God intends my little family for Himself.  It's an astonishingly beautiful thought to have about a person, and one that I can barely look at straight on for my husband or my children, much less every other person in the world, for whom it is also certainly true.  I'm not strong enough yet to live with a heart broken wide open.  Instead, for now, I find myself called insistently to know this truth with my whole heart for one person, maybe three.  

I wonder if part of the path to knowing this truth for every person with whom I interact is to be able to see the beauty of it for them as I do for Landon, or for Christopher.  For them, it is easy for me to see the wonder of this destiny, and especially the way that all that I cannot give them will be found in an eternal moment with the Father.  This optimism gives way, however, in the face of the mass interactions of faceless crowds.  When I consider extending this thought to the whole world I think of Syria, Egypt, and wounded Kenya, of war-torn regions of the world that are not currently in the news, and of the mess of inner cities much closer to home.  I see the pain that we give and receive, and the pain that comes on us from the tragedies inflicted by no one.  It's hard enough as it is to hear and see this, but when I think of looking at all this pain through the lens of an ideal so far beyond it, I can't bear to actually entertain the thought.  I let it slide off sideways without looking too closely.  And I imagine that this must be what it's like for God to see all of us.  To look at it that way, however, is once again to limit other people to their impact on myself.  The tell is in a phrase like "faceless crowds."  There is no faceless crowd that God created for Himself, there are only billions of individual people, each uniquely desired by God.  

And it is too much.  Once again, I find myself in the place of submitting to this lesson about one person, then three (or however large my family grows), and if I happen to finish that lesson in this lifetime, maybe I'll be able to truly learn how to love everybody that I wish that I could.  

Monday, September 9, 2013

The child and the cross

I'm teaching Christopher to make the sign of the cross these days, and it has me reflecting on my role as a parent in not only teaching our children our religion, but also bringing them into participation in it.  There's something startling in taking a toddler's little hand and tracing the shape of the cross over his little body.  This is, after all, not only a trinitarian prayer but also an acknowledgement of our own participation in the cross of Christ.  That means that it is both the best thing that I can think of and also something that scares for my own sake, much less for my child.  I wonder sometimes if this is really a decision that I can, or should, make for him.    

In one sense, it is imperative that I do choose for him, because the choice has already been made.  There are many things that we do not get to choose when we are born, such as parentage, and family.  Just as Christopher has earthly parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, he has a Heavenly Father, and just as it is our responsibility to bring him early into relationship with his earthly parents and other family members, it is our responsibility to enable his relationship with God.  And this relationship with God, we believe as Christians, comes through Jesus.  It is therefore essential that we not only encourage an amorphous relationship with God, but teach him the specific ways in which this relationship is maintained and deepened through Christ - by his teaching, and by belonging to his Body, the Church.  So through baptism he is born into the body of Christ, through prayer he learns the words to begin a conversation with Christ, and through the sign of the cross he learns the shape of the way to God.  

In another sense, however, it's clear that I cannot choose anything for Christopher.  No matter what I teach him, he has his own free will to exercise, and he can choose to accept or reject the relationship with God into which he has been born, just as he will someday choose his own response to other relationships into which he was born.  

Monday, September 2, 2013

On belief

In the course of a wide ranging conversation with a friend the other day, the issue of belief came up.  In spite of this friend's love of discussing God, theology, and their commitment to their Christian religion, they confessed to a rather weak belief.  It was easy for them to see the point of view of agnostics.  They believed that God was, but wondered at the necessity of this belief.

This struck a chord with me.  Belief, specifically belief in God, has always come easily for me on one level, and with difficulty on another.  A base level belief in God is impossible for me to dispense with, just because it's there.  When I look within myself, I find belief.  Having found this, I find all the other reasons that one might believe in the existence of God quite convincing.  They line up well with what I already believe about the world.  This, of course, leads to the difficulty with my belief, that is, that it's based on inclination more than reason, and therefore I find it difficult to trust.  I am vulnerable to persuasions of unbelief, specifically of the dismissal of the God of Abrahamic religions, with his personhood and self-revelation.  I flinch away especially from critiques of the existence of God which are based on an appeal to emotion or intuition; after all, that's more or less where my belief begins.  I read an account once of a person who lost their belief in God when they went on medication for their bipolar disorder.  It became apparent that the moments that they previously counted as contact with God turned out to be the results of emotional manic episodes.  How do I know that this could not happen to me, that the right medication wouldn't balance out my emotional life and suddenly my deepest beliefs would just evaporate?

All that to say that if anyone else out there both strives to live a life pleasing to God, while simultaneously doubting his existence, you have some company.  It's amazing to me how much doubt and faith co-exist in my life, similar to the simultaneous irritation and love that sometimes co-exist in my marriage.  I go about life as a brand-new Catholic, learning more about this tradition, relearning the basics that my parents and my church taught me as a child, and at the exact same time pondering whether any of this has any basis in reality, or, really, is the basis of reality.  I wonder at what point you could call both my friend and I optimistic agnostics - people who aren't certain that our reasons can carry us to our belief, but who choose, nevertheless, to live as though God does exist, and the vision of the world that we find so beautiful truly is the basis of reality.  Believers without certainty, who nevertheless continue to believe.