Showing posts from 2020

Holy leisure vs. unholy sloth

"Idleness is the enemy of the soul." Thus begins Chapter 48 of the Rule of St. Benedict, in which he lays out a schedule balancing manual and intellectual labor. Yes, we think with a private groan, we should  keep busy. We should be productive ! But wait -- that same schedule, that same paragraph in the Rule, also has time for a daily nap! St. Benedict's monastery was in Italy, after all. And then, there's my favorite commandment, the one about resting on the Sabbath. Idleness is the enemy of the soul, but rest  is holy, and it is mentally, physically, and spiritually healthy. America is a workaholic country. At every economic level, we suck at rest and relaxation. But before you tell me that you don't have time to rest, or before you accuse me of blind privilege, be honest: how much time do you spend watching TV/YouTube/Netflix (etc.)? How much time do you spend playing solitaire or Candy Crush (etc.)? It's a paradox: most Americans spend hours every day goof

Practical Asceticism: Get Bored

One of the quickest triggers for compulsive behavior, in my experience, is boredom . Learning to do absolutely nothing, even for a few seconds, is one of the hardest and yet most important lessons for me in the hermitage. It is also a very, very common challenge in our modern times, when we've all got a perfect little rectangle of constant distraction in the form of a smartphone.  I'm 53 years old; I grew to adulthood without a PC, let alone a smartphone. We used to use phone books, big, thick, paper phone books. We used to buy maps at the gas station to figure out how to get where we wanted to go. If we got lost, we'd have to pull off the road to look at the map again, and if a road was closed for construction or the map was out of date, we'd have to find a pay phone to call for directions. If we had car trouble, we'd have to get out and hike to the next rest stop on foot to call AAA from a pay phone. We had a complete set of Encyclopedia Brittanica at home, a 3&qu

Practical Asceticism: Lose the Whip

Following up on this post , I want to start off with this first, fundamental precept: stop beating yourself up.  Self-flagellation is really no fun! But more important: it does not work . Think about it: when you screw up, which you inevitably do because you are human, does self-recrimination actually keep you from screwing up the next time? Not only doesn't it help, by breaking down your self-confidence it actually makes it harder  to change.  You may ask, isn't beating yourself up a venerable old monastic tradition? Well, no, actually, it's not. It might be a medieval monastic tradition, but if you go farther back, to St. Benedict and back before him to the old Egyptian desert monasteries, it really is not the way. St. Benedict says that during Lent, each monk may freely offer some extra penitential sacrifice, of his own free will -- but only with the approval of the Abbot, because "anything done without the permission of the spiritual father will be imputed to presu

The power of weakness

I hate being weak. I hate being vulnerable, insecure, getting sick, needing help. I hate getting angry, scared, moody, not having all the information, and not being in control of outcomes. No, I don't like being weak. Who does? So the really stunning thing about the Christian God is not the power and glory, but the human weakness, frailty, littleness. The Incarnation of the most high God came in the form of an absolutely dependent, powerless being: an embryo, son of a girl who was barely old enough to get pregnant, in a time when infant mortality was exponentially higher than we can get our heads around in this era of high-tech obstetrics. She wasn't married yet, and her fiancĂ© very nearly ditched her when he found out she had gotten pregnant, not by him, before the wedding. The damn Romans forced them to travel to Bethlehem --by donkey if she was lucky, or maybe on foot-- when she was 9 months pregnant; she gave birth to the baby in a stable; and then they immediately had to g

Practical Asceticism in the Modern World: Intro

According to  Merriam-Webster , asceticism is " the practice of strict self-denial as a measure of personal and especially spiritual discipline : the condition, practice, or mode of life of an ascetic : rigorous abstention from self-indulgence ."  That doesn't sound like much fun, does it? It seems crazy, in a modern culture that celebrates the opposite: strict self-indulgence, and a rigorous abstention from self-denial.  And so what's wrong with self-indulgence, and what's so great about self-denial? Well, there's nothing mysterious about that. Overindulgence in food and drink leads to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, addictions, etc. ad nauseum . Inappropriate sexual self-indulgence, lust without love and commitment, is another way to contract nasty diseases, but it's an even better way to wreck relationships, break hearts, and erode self-esteem. Covetousness, as in impulse shopping or "keeping up with the Joneses," can get us into serious fi

Happy New Year!

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. For us churchy types, that makes it New Year's Day. I actually bought some little miniature bottles of bubbly and had one with supper yesterday ;-) I also bought my Christmas tree and set it in its stand, though so far it is decorated with nothing but a great big angel on top. I mixed some of the cut branches with some holly from my yard on a little table with the Advent candles, purple and pink. And I've started listening to Handel's Messiah, King's College Choir, and the Nutcracker Suite. The house is fragrant with fir, woodsmoke, and hot spiced cider. I haven't posted here for a while. I've tried.... Two things: brain fog, which turned out to have a physical cause and seems to be solved, yay! And two, my tendency to think about everything , all at once, so a simple blog post starts to turn into a whole encyclopedia. In my last attempt I was trying to write about all the feasts this past week rolled into one great theme: th

Zealots and Lost Causes (not political!)

Today is the feast of Sts. Simon and Jude. That's "Simon the Zealot," and "Jude, the Patron Saint of Lost Causes." Both of them were among the original 12 apostles chosen by Jesus. I'm going to take a minute for some basic catechism on the communion of saints in general and patron saints in particular, and another minute on these two saints celebrated today. But if you will keep reading, after that I want to say something about our own personal "lost causes," and reflect on "zealotry" as one of the ways we respond to them. I am NOT here to talk about zealotry in public causes, not a week before an election. In any case, I hope  everyone reading this has already voted! So first of all, some basic catechism on patron saints for the non-Catholics out there. What is a patron saint? Why do Catholics pray to saints, and why isn't this idolatry? So ... Catholics pray to saints, but not because they themselves have power, as if they were min


So in case y'all haven't noticed, Election Day in the USA will be this coming November 3, two Tuesdays from now. And you know what? It can't be over soon enough. I mean, I'm really glad I live in a democracy, but man, is it toxic ! I don't watch or read or listen to the news. I'm not on social media. I'm aware that it's really ugly out there, but -- well, that's exactly why I don't partake of it. It's too toxic. I'm not an undecided voter, in fact I already voted. I don't need to see and hear all the nastiness. When I am not sure which way to vote, in a primary or on some local issue, I look it up on the internet. Preferably on some non-partisan voter education website that can give me the information on the issues straight up, without all the hype and hysteria.  I'm not going to rant on and on about this, just -- I miss my monks! I watched Mass livestreamed from the monastery this morning, but then I also went to Mass at a local


I have learned that the place wherein You are found unveiled is girt round with the coincidence of contradictories, and this is the wall of Paradise wherein You abide! The door is guarded by the most proud spirit of reason, and unless he be vanquished, the way will not lie open. -- Nicolas of Cusa, Vision of God (15th century) I am a contemplative, not a theologian. I am distrustful of "theology," and generally opposed to "doctrine." I am a Christian, and it is through the story of the Incarnation that I relate to God. I find great riches and depth in Christianity. It has to be admitted, though, that there's also an awful lot of garbage encrusted around it. Neither do I believe that Christianity's sacred Scripture and Tradition together, even at their best, give me any more than an obscure view "as through a glass, darkly" of God. I object to theology, to the definition of doctrine, because it treats  God  as an object, or some kind of mechanistic

The pandemic is not the wrath of God

After posting to this blog two Sundays in a row, I was feeling very pleased with myself and thought that that would be a good schedule, and I meant to post again last Sunday. I started a post on Saturday, riffing off the Sunday Mass readings, but going again into my favorite theme of self-knowledge and self-actualization. I thought I'd finish and post it on Sunday. And then I went to Mass. I hadn't heard this pastor much before, but I had a good superficial impression of him. But when he started to preach, I was appalled! I was so shocked that I just pulled my cowl down over my eyes and shut him out with a private meditation until the homily was over.  The man was comparing this coronavirus pandemic with Noah's flood, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the horrific conquests of the kingdoms of Israel by Assyria and Judah by Babylon. He said that when the world, or some part of the world, is irredeemably saturated in sin, God sends some cataclysmic event to "

Paving the road

Today's Mass readings (link) If the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and the streets of Heaven are paved with gold, what about the road to Heaven? Mud. Mud and potholes, and the signposts are faded, slanted, and often printed in some totally unfamiliar script. And it's uphill! Hell is "down there" somewhere, and good intentions are so slippery you can just sit down and slide to Hell on your sofa cushion. Heaven is a hard climb.  OK, I'm in danger of getting hopelessly lost in this metaphor, so let's just move on....  This is what I want to say: Always we begin again. It's a motto of the Benedictines. My spiritual director used to repeat to me a quote from one of the desert fathers, who when asked how the monks lived, answered, "we fall down and we get up ... we fall down and we get up." The Mass readings today are all about the possibility of change -- for the better or for the worse. It's a really important theme for me!  I wrote

The parable of the day laborers

Today's Mass readings (link) .  In today's gospel reading, Jesus tells the story of a vineyard owner who goes down to the local Home Depot (or was it a 7-11? my translation just says "the marketplace") early in the morning, and there finds a bunch of men loitering around hoping to pick up a day's work. He agrees on a standard day's wage, loads them into his pickup truck and takes them back to the vineyard, where they immediately start working. He goes back a few hours later and brings back another pickup-truckload of day laborers, again at lunchtime, again in the afternoon, and then again just an hour before the working day is finished. When time comes to start paying them off, the boss tells his foreman to call the workers forward, starting with the last hired. Each one is paid the standard day's wage. Seeing this, the ones who had been there first perked up, thinking that they would no doubt get paid more since they had been working hard for many more ho

Binding and loosing

Today's Mass readings:  Ezekiel 33:7-9, in which the prophet is told that he has the obligation to call out evil -- that if he sees someone doing wrong, and fails to call them on it, then they will be punished for their sin and he, too, will be held responsible for their guilt . If, on the other hand, he calls them out and they ignore his warning and continue in their sins, then they will be punished but he will be held guiltless. Romans 13:8-10, in which Paul says that everything in the Law -- thou shalt not lie or steal or kill or covet -- is rolled up in the one commandment: "love your neighbor as yourself." Don't get hung up on details, just love. Matthew 18:15-20, in which Jesus tells his disciples: if someone wrongs you, confront him (or her, etc.) privately. Maybe he'll hear you and apologize and change his ways, and you will have done him good as well as yourself. If they don't listen, then talk it over with some friends, and if they agree that this pe

Love is an Action Verb

LOVE  is a word with a lot of definitions. It gets confusing! In fact, I don't think we have nearly enough words in English to cover all the things "love" is used for. from noun a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person. a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend. sexual passion or desire. verb (used with object), loved, lov·ing. to have love or affection for: All her pupils love her . to have a profoundly tender, passionate affection for (another person). So this covers filial love, romantic love, friendly love, sexual attraction ... all nice, warm, pleasant feelings . Nothing to do with the Christian definition of "love," actually. Nothing, really, to do with the grown-up  definition of "love."  St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13:4-6, says: Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irrita

ADHD and me (getting to know me, part 99)

I never heard of ADHD until I was 30, when my dad was diagnosed with the disorder. Immediately, the whole rest of the family recognized ourselves in the same diagnosis, and some of us (myself included) went out and got diagnosed, too. Still, although I am now 53, I have a very superficial understanding of ADHD and how it has affected my life. Back when I was first diagnosed, science was only just beginning to see ADHD beyond hyperactive boy children, so the diagnosis didn't really provide me, a spacey (that is, "primarily inattentive type") grown woman, with a lot of guidance. Then again, I could never tolerate the stimulant medication that is typically prescribed for ADHD at anything like a useful dose. So basically, I have been untreated and uncounselled for ADHD all my life.  This past week, I got intensely frustrated with one of the ways this brain-kink manifests in my life, which is something I call "stuckness" or "an excess of inertia." I just ca

Follow Your Bliss

  "I really care about how humans smell smells in the environment and how insects smell smells in the environment, and how they smell humans."  -- Dr. Leslie Vosshall, a molecular neurobiologist at Rockefeller University, as heard on the Nature  podcast . I got to do one of my favorite things in the world over the past few weeks: dress up in heavy chest waders and slog through sticky, stinky marsh muck, craning to see the next plot marker over head-high thorny vines and occasional poison ivy, during a humid Mid-Atlantic heat wave, carrying a heavy backpack, a clipboard and pencil, for the biennial emergent vegetation survey. Ah, what bliss! My ecologist friend thanked me profusely and repeatedly, and I just kept on assuring her that I love  this!  But she says -- and maybe this won't surprise anyone but me -- she can't get anyone else to go out more than once on this project. To me it is almost as hard to grasp that most people would pay money NOT to have to lie down