Saturday, June 26, 2021

I'm still here....

    No deep thoughts to share with you today. But Google Blogger is phasing out the blog-following service my few faithful subscribers are signed up to, so since I haven't actually decided to give up on blogging altogether, I thought I'd better give you the chance to sign up to the new service. So if you want to stay in touch with my occasional ramblings, even if you're already following me, please click "subscribe" in the right-hand sidebar again.

    I'm really excited today, actually, because the monastery where I am an Oblate is opening up to the public for Sunday Mass again tomorrow, for the first time since the pandemic started. I can't wait to see my people face-to-face again! I know, we still won't be loading up on hugs, but it will still be much better than monthly Zoom. 

    I did find a parish I like a lot. The congregation is diverse, and they evidently have a very strong commitment to community service as well as a genuine contemplative underpinning. But I don't know anyone there, and the pandemic hasn't been a good time to make new friends. So the truth is, I have not been going to Mass at all for a while. I went, the first Sunday after I was fully vaccinated, and I was so happy ... and then, the very next week, they announced that masks would now be voluntary "for those who are vaccinated." Maybe I'm unreasonable, but I feel like restrictions are being lifted too far, too soon. Too many people are not vaccinated, for whatever reason, and even though I am myself, I worry.... I mean, even if half of us are vaccinated, we reduce the available space between those who might not be. 

    Well, and all the same things will be true at the Abbey, but I'm not at all hesitating to go back there tomorrow. Some people may still be resisting vaccination, but I don't know -- they're already my friends, my beloved community, and being there with them outweighs the risk. Luckily, too, the weather should allow for the church windows to be opened. I will probably still wear a mask.

    So I have been staying away from Church, and it has had an effect on my faith. Not my faith in God, you understand, but the Roman Catholic form of expression of my faith. I have been without my beloved community, and without the Eucharist, which leaves me with the written word ... and without those things to give them light and context, I have found the psalms, Scripture generally, the Church Fathers, the theologians, and the grotesquely dysfunctional hierarchy more and more unpalatable. The misogyny, the legalism, the bigotry, the bull-headed insistence on what to me seem like pretty breathtakingly arrogant formulas of "truth" about the precise nature of God who, really, surely, is far beyond our ability to define and describe. There is room for "mystery" in Catholicism, which is one of the things that most attracts me to this faith, but I often feel as though the boundaries of allowable mystery are shrunk as far as men can shrink it, way beyond the point of ridiculous mental gymnastics. 

    The self-assured, pompous pronouncements of theologians remind me of the letters to the editor in the Mensa journal. I joined Mensa a couple of decades ago, first of all to see if I could qualify (it's a society for people with high IQ), and also for something to put on my résumé to compensate for the lack of a college degree. "See, I'm smart, I just ... can't hack college." ADHD, I guess, mostly. Who knew? As a line on the résumé it was a failure, by the way, since I worked in a mostly Latin American organization, and as it turns out, "mensa" means "moron" in Spanish. A new vocabulary word for me! No, but my point is this: the Mensa journal invariably carried letters to the editor expounding elaborate crackpot theories about UFOs, mad conspiracies, I don't remember what.... it was wild! Really, really smart people, getting carried away by their own ability to work out systems of thought both intricate and all-encompassing, and then convincing themselves that what they had worked out was actually true. Just like a bunch of theologians.

    It was a really good lesson for me! Not only am I Mensa-smart, but I'm also a solitary, which is two-thirds of a recipe for crazy thinking, since there's no one to nudge me back on track. But -- silver linings are a thing, you see -- I had been through some s*t. I had suffered. I had found myself unable to cope with life, with some of the most basic things about life that most people of average intelligence handle perfectly competently. So already, I understood that my brain, a gift for which I am grateful, is only one kind of human "giftedness." And the Mensa high-IQ crackpots just reinforced that lesson. And for the gift of that lesson, I am doubly grateful.

    And anyway, staking out a position is not, in my experience, conducive to peace. Keeping an open mind is more difficult, it takes vigilance, but the peace it allows is much deeper and broader. I do have strong opinions (no, really? astonishing), but I try to remember that they are only right for certain reasons, and other people's contrary opinions are often equally right for a different set of reasons that matter more to them. Or even if not, the thinking, feeling, influences, personality traits and life experiences that lead them to their wrong conclusions are real and valid and worthy of respect.

    Yeah, I'm wandering. I'm OK with that. Isn't that progress?  :-) I mean, in self-acceptance, embracing my scattered brain. Enjoying the birds bringing their babies to my feeders, so cute! It's a beautiful, beautiful day, and now I think I'll get up and go pull some weeds for a while. There's someone paddling past on the river in something that looks kind of like a kayak, but pedal-powered, with three fishing poles hanging off it -- oh man, if there was an 800 number flashing across my porch screen I would be in serious danger of placing an order for a boat like that! I love my life. 

    Well, so anyway, yes, I will be happy to go back to church tomorrow, at my own monastery, with my own people, the friends I love. I will be happy to partake of the Mystery, and hope that the magic of the sacrament and the community will again combine to put all the ..... oh, I can't just off the top of my head think of a nicer word for it than "bulls*t" .... back into context. I am convinced that God cannot be contained within any religion, which I suppose already makes me a heretic. But I'm only human, and from my side of the relationship, for me to relate to God, language and symbol and practice really help. My spiritual director, God bless him, is not worried about the state of my soul. But for myself, I'm relieved to be going back to the Abbey for Mass, back to the sacrament, back to my beloved community. 

Peace. 

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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Garden of Earthly Delights

    Yesterday, I decided to take my daily walk before breakfast, since rain was likely at my usual walking time after midday prayer. And you know, it was just walking from delight to delight, and since I seem to write in here mostly about how hard it all is, and how much I struggle with myself, and how disappointed I get with my mere weak humanness, I thought I'd just change it up a little some reminders of why I changed my name to "Happiness" when I retired into the hermitage. And, you know, it's Spring, which is the Easter of the whole planet (OK, I know, the northern temperate zone). It's Spring, and new life is bursting out of the earthen grave of winter dormancy, and we sing our Easter liturgies of resurrection and rebirth, it's all just really exhilarating. 

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Holy Saturday

    Jesus is dead. All our hopes are overturned, the kingdom is not about to be liberated from the forces of oppression and injustice and evil after all. That's not what Jesus came to do, it turns out. This world, this life, is still going to be hard. I don't like to anticipate Easter too much, I like to sit with the devastated disciples in their upper room, grieving the gruesome lynching of their hero, the man on whom they had pinned all their hopes, reeling from the loss of everything they had looked forward to: King Jesus on the throne of a free, just, and holy Israel, blessed by the God who had sent Him to lead them out of darkness. Now Jesus is gone, gone all the way into that darkness. We, the disciples gathered in that upper room, we don't know yet about the resurrection. The holy women haven't yet gone to prepare the body for burial, and found it missing, and angels telling them He is risen. We haven't heard the good news yet, all we know today is that Jesus has been overthrown, betrayed by a beloved friend, scourged (whipped bloody), mocked, tortured, shamed (stripped naked), and hung up to die. It's all over, as far as the disciples know. Our hearts are broken.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Challenge: Do Something Badly

    There are two quotes I've heard lately that have really struck me. Both have to do with pernicious perfectionism, and both I heard on ADHD-related podcasts. The first one was: 

B-minus work can change the world

    The corollary is: work that doesn't get done changes nothing. That one I heard on the I Have ADHD podcast, by host Kristen Carder, who was quoting life coach Brooke Castillo. What brings it home is how Kristen Carder shows up as a right hot mess, and let me tell you, with all her messiness she has taught me more than any other ADHD expert so far. If she had waited to get her act together before starting this podcast, I and a whole lot of other people would have lost out. 

    The second fits right in with that one: 

You don't have to be the best to do what you love

spoken by guest entrepreneur Kristen Ley on the Semi-Together podcast

Monday, March 1, 2021

Praying the Psalms

    My life is centered in prayer. A lot of that is personal, inward, direct, meditative or conversational. But the kind of prayer that forms the structure for my life, the kind that frames time, is called The Divine Office. This is the prayer that keeps me connected with a whole body of pray-ers, of people praying near and far; not only hermits, monks and nuns, but all Catholic and some Protestant priests and religious, past, present, and future, around the world and in many languages. It is a tradition that goes back to the Desert Fathers and Mothers, and beyond, back before Christianity, before the Second Temple, before the exile and restoration of Judea, even before Israel and Judea separated into two separate kingdoms, if tradition is right in attributing at least some of the psalms to King David. That would make them about 3,000 years old. 

    There are 150 psalms, and I chant them all, spread out over a two-week cycle, four sessions or "Hours" per day. Most priests and religious pray the "Roman Office," as I did while I was working full-time. It's the same thing, only the psalms are spread out over a 4-week cycle with 2 long and 5 shorter Hours per day. I guess I spend about two hours per day praying the Office, which is made up of biblical and non-biblical readings and other scriptural canticles, as well as the psalms. That's a lot of time I spend immersed in the psalms. And it's good, it is a source of stability and connectedness in my life that is very valuable.

    Then again ...

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Who is my enemy?

I've been wanting to say something about the appalling state of American politics. It seems to me that the most urgent issue in U.S. governance is not this party's policies or that party's policies, not what the last president did or what the new one is going to do. The most urgent issue facing us is our polarization, and I don't mean the dysfunctional Congress -- I mean the great gulf running between us, the voters. And I don't mean out there, I mean right here in my mirror, because I am as firmly pro-this side and as firmly disgusted by that side as anybody else. 

Friday, January 8, 2021

Silence, Solitude, Simplicity

I've changed my mind about blogging weekly. My vows as a hermit are Solitude, Silence, and Simplicity. Blogging is interfering with the Silence. I spend a lot of time thinking, which is great, but spending time trying to frame my thinking in words to get it across to other people is not so great. I'm thinking my thoughts twice, instead of just moving through them and on to the next experience. I'm getting bogged down, not living in the moment, which interferes with the openness that contemplation requires. I'm always evaluating myself, not just in relation to God and our relationship, but to try to express my truth to the outside world. It just doesn't work for me, for this contemplative life. 

I have always thought that introspective writing is much more useful when it is about lessons learned in the past. Experiences need to be gotten through, reflected on, and seen from the perspective of their longer-term effects. But I'm still in the first stage of the eremitic life. I'm still deep in the getting-to-know-me stage, and I don't think I have much more to say that is really fully baked and ready to publish. 

Evagrius Ponticus said, "the practice of stillness is full of joy and beauty: its yoke is easy and its burden light." So I'm recommitting to stillness, silence, mindfulness, meditation, contemplation -- which is the whole point of the monastic life, isn't it?

Thank you to my friends and family who have been following along. Feel free to e-mail me one-on-one. If you don't have my e-mail address, click on the menu (3 lines at top left) and you will find a contact form there. 

I wish you all choicest blessings in 2021. Peace to our polity, health to our families, and may we all grow daily to love ourselves and one another as God loves us all.