Saturday, January 7, 2023

Epiphany

     When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” (Matthew 2:1-2)

    An epiphany is a manifestation of something hidden, or a sudden realization of something significant. This feast of the Epiphany is all about human beings encountering God among us. The readings at Mass are about the visit of the magi, but properly speaking, "Epiphany" also includes the angel's announcement to the shepherds in the fields around Bethlehem, and infant Jesus's presentation in the Temple, where he was recognized as the Messiah by Simeon and Anna. And more: it includes the adult Jesus's baptism in the Jordan River by John, when the dove descended on him, and also his transfiguration up on the mountain, in the presence of Peter, James, and John. 

    Stick with the magi, the wise men, for a moment.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Waiting

     We're almost to the end of Advent, the season of waiting.... Waiting for the Incarnation, for the coming of infinite God into intimate communion with our bounded humanity. 

Monday, December 19, 2022

Examination of Conscience: Innocence

    I've been writing a lot lately about sin, examination of conscience, confession, and how important it all is for psychological and spiritual growth. Today I want to say something about a very different aspect of self-examination, which is discerning when we have not been wrong. The truth is that victims of certain kinds of traumas -- especially any form of child abuse or neglect (physical, emotional, or spiritual), sexual trauma, or intimate partner violence -- are likely to carry a load of guilt and shame that doesn't belong to us. Rightly, it belongs to the perpetrator of the abuse. We may understand that rationally, and shame may co-exist with rage. But still, we carry it, and it can be crippling.

Monday, December 5, 2022

On Being and Becoming

     A conversation came up recently about how we tend to define ourselves by who or what or how we ARE, and whether we might be holding ourselves back by that thinking. The speaker called it an "ontological bias," which should be a clue that this was a group of highly gifted people. It tickled me, honestly, because out "in the world," defining ourselves by who we ARE seems to be a far step ahead of defining ourselves merely by what we DO. But her point was to go another step beyond self-limiting thinking: to shake off any self-definition at all, any static self-understanding, and step out into continual becoming.

    Continual becoming. I think that is a pretty fair synonym for "enlightenment," or "mystical union with God." And I also think it is achievable. No, not permanently and continuously, but at least intermittently and increasingly, through practice. After all, the idea of attaining perfection once and for all is just another way of "being." Enlightenment, or mystical union with God, is "becoming," it is a path and not a destination. In real life terms, I know from experience that I can transcend my weaknesses; I can grow in ways I thought were beyond me; I can know peace and contentment and love that I never imagined. I have changed so much already in my life, I do easily things I used to struggle with, I'm no longer bothered by things that used to torment me, I know that an astonishing amount of change is possible. Thank God, because I still do struggle plenty. I still and always will have a ways to go.

    But here is the paradox: the only way to transcend the limits of present reality is to head straight into it, even to embrace it.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

A Brief History of Sacramental Confession

    I started out this week wanting to say a little more about the sacrament of confession & reconciliation, and specifically the part where the priest gives you your "penance" -- traditionally assigning some prayers to be recited, a few Hail Marys or Our Fathers. Which seems to me to be kind of ... well, kind of beside the point. For a number of reasons. But my purpose isn't just to make fun of how not to do it. My point is to sift through a tradition whose meaning has faded through the centuries, in hopes of finding what is really needed, what is truly valuable for helping us to grow into people with healthy functioning consciences, and healthy relationships with God, with ourselves, and with one another.

    As usual, I got very quickly lost in the weeds of this, what seemed like a very manageably limited topic; i.e., the ritual penance part of the sacrament. So I've decided to back up another step and just give a quick run-down of how this sacrament came to be, historically. Just as background, without trying, for now, to evaluate or delve into the meaning or relevance of any of it for us today.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Confession, or Manifestation of Thoughts

     I have a confession: I almost never go to Confession. I mean, canon law only requires Catholics to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation (as it's properly called) once a year, but I don't even go that often. I only do it when there's something really serious and sticky on my conscience. Which is rare -- and I think, more than anything, that's because I'm such a big believer in confession with a small “c”: frequent, thorough, routine confession, not necessarily to a priest (though my spiritual director happens to be one), and not limited to “sins.” It is a practice known in the monastic tradition as “manifestation of thoughts,” in chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict. 

Monday, November 7, 2022

Living Large

     This month, my awesome ADHD coach is teaching all about emotional regulation. Actually, most of what I've learned about my own emotions, I've learned from her before this present course began, and I think this is really the work I most need to do now. What I know about myself and emotions going in: I don't like them, I don't want them, I resist them, I stuff them, I ignore them, or sometimes I ruminate on them. And the result of all that is that I am ineffectual, I have no energy, I spin in circles, I putter and buffer and mutter and live a small, futile life. I don't want all that emotion, I dread opening up to it. And yet, it seems clear to me that this is what I have to learn to do in order to live fully, and in order to become a resource for others to learn to live fully.