We are living in a culture that is openly hostile to what is truly masculine and truly feminine. People willy-nilly redefining things, while we either watch passively and helplessly or recklessly choose to participate in the madness. However, what we see on social media, the theater we see acted out on the political stage, the nonsensical farce we experience in most of academia changes nothing that is a reality in the spirit. I am feeling like what we really need is to opt out. Step away from anything, anyone, any institution that robs us of the power of our symbol. Opt. Out.
“In reality woman had lost her power as symbol while she still believed to be retaining it. A culture that in its last analysis is no longer turned toward God in reverence and with a sense of responsbility has, if viewed according to a deeper insight, also foregone the presence of woman. The woman, however, who recklessly and unconditionally allows herself to become part of such a culture, basically affirms only her own exclusion. Her presence is nothing more than a pretense….
“It is not the man but the woman who must save the endangered feminine image; she must rescue it in its three-fold revelation as established by eternal decrees…”
(Quote from The Eternal Woman by Gertrud von le Fort)
I grew up with a version of the Prosperity Gospel. Not a pure version, mind you. Because we were not wealthy. We were pretty healthy though, despite everything. Maybe we couldn’t manifest money, but in lieu of health insurance, we certainly saw more than our share of divine healing. I say that without an ounce of irony. I am grateful for that to my core.
But, this Prosperity Gospel—the notion that you can, in a way, experience heaven on earth, is insidious and a distortion of the actual Gospel Jesus preached. The slogan that emerged post-Jesus People Movement with the rise of the televangelist taught people to name it and claim it. We were taught to set our faith, to believe that we would receive, that we have not because we ask not—as if that was carte blanche to ask for things we have no business even desiring.
When I was a small child (maybe three or four?) my mother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said I wasn’t sure. She said, “Do you want to be a mother?” and I replied, ”Oh, no! I want to do something important.”
What a knife. My poor mother.
I thought of this recently listening to a podcast that featured Kate Bowler who was sharing how she journeyed through being diagnosed with cancer and parenting her child. The question was asked if she took time off from her work. (She didn’t.) She replied, “I just needed something really meaningful to do. I didn’t want to crochet. I mean, God bless crocheting, but I wanted to do something hard. I like the feeling of doing something hard.”
What a knife. Poor crocheters.
My opinion is only my opinion. I am not an expert on anyone’s pain, but my own. And even then I understand only part of the time. However, I feel in my marrow that however you are processing your pain that process is the “something hard” and whatever cross the Lord asks you to carry, that is the “something important.”
Learn to knit socks or pray the Rosary in Latin or take up trimming bonsai trees or volunteer at the local soup kitchen.
There is no judgement. Feel your pain. Do what you need to do in order to be present in it.
If that means you write a book, write it. If that means you learn to bake sourdough bread like everyone who stressed baked through lockdown, bake on. If you hit the gym or climb a mountain, the important thing to realize is that it is the important thing.
Sometimes the hard thing God calls us to is getting up each day, drinking our coffee with gratitude, and surviving. Survival is the hard thing.
Rilke says, “Almost everything serious is difficult and everything is serious.”
This idea that we need to do hard things at the same time define what that means so narrowly, can quickly become spiritual laziness, so intimates Merton, ”Set me free from the laziness that goes about disguised as activity when activity is not required of me…” (New Seeds of Contemplation)
Do hard things.
Do important things.
Ride a bike, play in the sprinkler, learn to make sauerkraut, read all the great books you can find, watch foreign films with subtitles, send your friends memes to keep the communication open when you otherwise can’t, go to Adoration and cry (or take a nap), journal pages and pages to fill all the notebooks you have lying around, write haiku, get up early and watch the sunrise every day, stay up late decluttering your attic. Do the things God puts in front of you and resist the urge to do the things the world deems as important simply because the world says they are. The world is no judge whatsoever of what is truly important. Or hard.
When I was a child I learned to cook because I loved it. But also I learned because it was one way I could control my little world. When things were bad or stressful or scary or when I felt alone or confused, I cooked. When I discovered this coping mechanism I was 10 years old. And I was stressed. And so I made baked chicken, rice, potatoes, broccoli, pudding, and chocolate cake. All at one time.
When things were really rough in my marriage I would make heavy elaborate food to soothe the beasts (real or imagined).
Then the day came when I was strong enough to take charge of my world and had fewer beasts to soothe. And I cried.
In conversations with my therapist I realized I was crying a lot for no apparent reason. She said, ”Consider that you are mourning and letting go of that person you created to survive. She served you well, but you can let her go now.”
I still cook, but more often now from a place of peace and not anxiety. However, I do not for a moment forget how that means of coping was important. And hard. And exactly the tool God gave me in that moment that I needed it.
The idea of this kills me. Because it is so true. My goodness, how many times I have gone to the Lord with all the excuses of why I am the way I am!
While I have no clue about my sign or my co-star, I can tell you that I am Meyers Briggs ENFP and an Enneagram 4w5. I am the quintessential middle child. My love languages are words of affirmation and physical touch. My temperament is Sanguine-Melancholic. My charism is hospitality.
“I will repay you double what the swarming locust has eaten…” Joel 2:25
Catholic Rural Life Farm To Table Supper 2020. I made a spectacular menu with lobster spring rolls and a Moroccan lamb and chicken stew and five kinds of paletas. I didn’t eat any of it. I barely made it through the day. I leaned hard on my mom friends who helped me in the kitchen. I had to take frequent breaks because my body was not cooperating. I finished the six course service, then sat down by the fire with friends. They toasted the perfect autumn night with champagne and offered me a clove. I was just happy to be done.
I don’t know how I got home actually. I drove. I had to. But, I was already shutting down.
A few years ago my middle school aged son got into the car and I handed him a book and said, ”Hold this please.” He said, ”Is this a Bible?” I said, ”No, Seven Storey Mountain.” He replied, ”Merton. It’s always Merton with you.”
He’s not wrong.
This morning I picked up The New Seeds of Contemplation for about the millionth time and opened it at random and this jumped out and pierced my heart, like nothing else.
“Untie my hands and deliver my heart from sloth. Set me free from the laziness that goes about disguised as activity when activity is not required of me, and from the cowardice that does what is not demanded, in order to escape sacrifice.
“But give me the strength that waits upon You in silence and peace. Give me humility in which alone is rest, and deliver me from pride which is the heaviest of burdens. And possess my whole heart and soul with simplicity of love. Occupy my whole life with the one thought and the one desire of love, that I may love not for the sake of merit, not for the sake of perfection, not for the sake of virtue, not for the sake of sanctity, but for You alone.
“For there is only one thing that can satisfy love and reward it, and that is You alone.”
Has the Lord ever asked you a question and you know the right answer and your answer are not the same?
The Lord is really good at asking simple questions that cannot be answered because the answer is too difficult to bear, let alone say out loud. Like the rich young ruler who went away sad, sometimes what God asks of us is more than what we are prepared to give.
In the book of Luke, chapter 15 there is the parable of the good shepherd going after the one lost sheep.
Did you grow up in the era of the Sunday School flannelgraph? (Kids today have no idea what they are missing. If you know, you know.) If you did, you know the image of the sheep, stuck in a bush. (Probably played double duty with the story of Abraham not sacrificing Isaac.) And you know of the good shepherd—Jesus in his long robes—and how nicely the little lamb fit over his shoulders. Charming to be sure.
The parable is interesting though. What shepherd in his right mind would leave 99 sheep to chase after one little pain the ass, who, if you have ever worked with sheep, will probably stray again? (They are persistently rebellious like that.) It always seemed an odd analogy to leave the flock for one.
My pastor said today it is a picture of love and how love compels us to do things that are not even understandable and in the light of reason seem unreasonable.
When I was a little girl I wanted to get married young, be a missionary, and have so very many kids.
Check. Check. Check.
And honestly, I was proud of it. I did exactly what I set about to do. I was serving the Lord (I mean, I am sure God appreciated all I was doing for him. Why wouldn’t he? I was such an asset.), I was married to the first man I ever kissed, and I had all these beautiful babies. My life was completely on script.
Little did I realize that life was improv.
I never expected to be living with the consequences of addiction and trauma. I never expected chronic illness. I certainly never expected to be 42 and divorced, raising children on my own. Working full time, even! That was never in the equation. I loved being a stay-at-home mom (a term I don’t particularly care for) so much.
And now. What is going on with my unscripted life?
Today I listened to this podcast. Although not the main focus of the podcast, it touched briefly on the well-curated lives of those on Instagram. Not just us regular folk on Insta, but those “content creators”….you know….“influencers.”
Especially prickly to me personally are those monochromatic curated accounts. All polished and shiny in the same color palette. It doesn’t look alive. It looks like a still life. The accounts are kind of sterile. Dry. Unromantic.
But life is rather unruly. The unexpected always happens. We never expect it. Life is messy. It is all the deep end and there is no lifeguard.
It’s so easy to be false. I suppose that has always been true of mankind, but it is particularly true of mankind on social media. But what if I don’t have, or more importantly, I don’t want a well-curated life, that has been carefully selected for the demographic most likely to give me likes. Going out of a limb here, this can include vague-posting and meltdown selfies. Likes are the social currency we use to evaluate our worth. And if a pic of us crying without details of why can get me a lot of likes and “What is wrong?” comments, we’ll do it.