It’s raining. The day is dark, and there is a raven hanging out on a nearby hillside, poking around in the brush.
Everyone else seems to be staying indoors.
Move along… move along.
It’s raining. The day is dark, and there is a raven hanging out on a nearby hillside, poking around in the brush.
Everyone else seems to be staying indoors.
Move along… move along.
The sun came out only for moments today. It was overcast for the most part until the early afternoon. Then the fog came billowing by, and settled for the day and night.
There’s word we might have snow. It’s snow like weather, it’s cold enough, but the last few precipitation predictions have been rather over bold. So, I don’t expect to see a white morning. For now, it’s enough to hear the condensation drip off the trees with the gusts of wind.
I read from the Philokalia this afternoon and took note of these words from Symeon the New Theologian:
The goal of all who pursue the spiritual path is to do the will of Christ, their God, to be reconciled with the Father through communion in the Spirit and so to achieve their salvation. For only in this way is the soul’s salvation attained. And if it is not attained, our labor is fatuous and our work vain. Every path of life is pointless that does not lead the person pursuing it to this consummation.
It just occured to me that the grace/law argument could be assumed here by those not too familiar with the spiritual path. This isn’t about salvation by faith, that’s a different matter. This is Paul’s Philippian comment as well:
2:12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
And so the one seeking to work this out finds the path which leads to the goal, and wanders wherever the Spirit leads, hoping to taste of God’s goodness along the way.
This isn’t new to me, nor what struck me this morning. It was the following passage which made me pause a moment.
The person who, totally forsaking the world, retires to the mountains as though in pursuit of stillness and who then showily writes to those in the world, blessing some and paising and flattering others, is like someone who, after divorcing a foul and slatternly whore of a wife and going off to a distant land to expunge even his memory of her, then forgets why he came there and longs to write to those living with that whore, and sullied by her, even deeming them happy. If not bodily at least in heart and in intellect he shares their passions inasmuch as he deliberately condones their commerce with that woman.
Those who purify their senses and hearts from every evil desire while living in the world indeed deserve praise and are surely blessed. Correspondingly, those who dwell in mountains and caves, but who pursue human praise and blessing, deserve censure and rejection. In the eyes of God, diviner of our hearts, they are adulterers. For the person who wants his life and name and ascetic practice to be known in the world prostitutes himself in God’s sight, as, according to David, the Jewish people once did (cf. Ps. 106:39).
A person can keep quoting relevant passages essential to developing this more, but this is good for now. For it in some ways reflects the lessons of my past year.
One could even see these very words as relating to this passage, though this isn’t what I’m considering. I see this present section and this website more as a way of communicating to those in similar situations than a way of seeking attention. I starved to know how others were walking the spiritual life, and so I thought it might be a way of help to document my own journey.
But, I do notice the connection, and I notice it because it is a precipice I know I walk alongside in other areas of my life. I know I have fallen full into the temptations described and have spent the last two years trying to work that out of my system. This describes the lessons I am learning and the nature I must watch out for in myself.
I yearn for the Spiritual path… but not enough. I yearn for the outside world… but not enough. It is a combination which is both cruel and curious. It is a combination which speaks of both who I am supposed to be and who I am not supposed to be, all dependent on my perspective and orientation in each moment. I am not called to be a mystic on a mountain. Nor am I called to be an office worker pining for a promotion. There is a unity of my calling which seeks both inward and outward, yet it is a narrow path which will find both without finding desperation and death.
It involves humble obedience and letting go. It involves doing as I see right, not doing for what I want to be right. It is a fluid pursuit, not a pursuit of ambitious self-realization.
It is a becoming less, not a trying to do more.
When I step off this path I fully become that person described in the passage and I hate myself for it. I feel it in my sinews and bones, my whole soul despises what I have become. When I walk rightly, I feel it in my whole being, which exalts God not me, which glories in what I can do with others, not what I can show myself to be to others.
Walking this narrow path is why I walk with fear and trembling, why I seek to accept the ever growing urge for prayer and why I let go of those things which others say I must grasp.
Because, the fact is that I’m finding something. I’m finding something in these last few weeks, and it is good. It is revealing the purpose of my being, which is to find humility and wholeness together in and through the work of the Spirit who draws all people towards wholeness. In nothing I am finding something, and if I can just manage to take hold of that I will be of some value.
The path has become steep and even more narrow these last few weeks, and I don’t know why or what it is leading towards, if anything. I can only walk, and continue to learn to pray, and continue to let myself be drawn back towards the ancient paths of Truth that have become overgrown in my life and in the life of many I know.
I see in Symeon’s words a hope and a warning. I am walking right today… but I must continue to keep my wits about me, for my failing is always quite near. I only know that continuing to walk is worth it… worth it all. I’ve seen the pearl of great worth and press on after it.
It was supposed to be stormy all weekend. I even called off a chance to go sailing in San Pedro because of the storm. That turned out to be a good decision, even if a storm didn’t come, and even if it wasn’t particularly good for reasons on my end. The storm didn’t come. Fog came. Clouds really, if a person were to be at a lower altitude looking up. Here, it is fog, thick, rolling fog, so dense that the house across the street is barely visible.
There’s a full moon tonight, I think, or close to it. I can’t see a thing, for it is all dark, thickly dark, powerful dark. I don’t mind in fact I love the dark for what it is.
It seems restful and soothing.
That’s how I feel tonight. Restful.
Through the day I flirted with levels of activity, worry, and doubt. Then I decided to check the mail, which entails a ten minute drive to the post office. No home delivery in Lake Arrowhead. On the way back I stopped at Starbucks and got a venti cappuccino. It was about 7:15 when I got that cappuccino, but I didn’t really care. I’ve no idea why I got it, for it was only the second time in a year and a half that I visited that Starbucks. It seemed like a soothing idea.
As the evening continued I felt more mellow, more at peace, more restful — qualities not normally associated with a venti cappuccino.
I feel restful tonight, deeply and thoroughly. There’s much to think about and consider… but I don’t need to do that tonight. Tonight I just want to bathe in the peace of a fog filled night, and let the rest fill me and soothe my otherwise baked soul.
All is well. This is something that can most always be said… but it’s wonderful when I’m not having to convince myself of the fact and can really believe it is true from the depths of my being.
All is indeed well.
This is one of the core concepts of the Spiritual life.
“All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Mt 23:12)
I’ve spent seven years in Christian higher education, getting two degrees which have bathed me in the teachings of ministry and the Church.
I do not believe I’ve ever been taught or shown or even encouraged to humble myself.
“For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)
I have spent thirty years in the Church, from my first week of life to now, I have participated at every level, in every kind of ministry.
I’ve been taught how to exalt myself. I’ve been taught how to be a leader. I’ve been shown that the way to ecclesial success is to show oneself gifted above the rest, to be more insightful, to be more energetic, to be more happy, to be more strong, to be more faithful, to be more capable. I’ve been taught how to communicate in a way that impresses, how to craft a portfolio that shows how much I can do. I’ve seen the fruits of exalting, and seen how people are eager to exalt those who exalt themselves.
I’ve never been shown how to humble myself, and have been shown that those who are humbled have little place within the Body of Christ, except as targets of ministry from the exalted. One is taught to overcome humility with strength and fortitude, one is taught how to make weaknesses disappear in a veneer of spirituality and methodology.
No one teaches how to be humble. No one shows how we are to humble ourselves.
“The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:11)
Thank God I am not like the other people, those wretched sinners who ruin our country and foul the Church with their doubt. Thank God I can gather with others like me, and so keep myself from that kind of evil. That is what I am taught to say.
“God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” That is what my heart says.
What is humility anyhow in our era? That’s the question. For in a way we in the Church have learned to exalt forms of humility, so that the ways to honor are the ways which used to lead to humility. Go across the world to a god forsaken place, and find honor and glory at home. Move downtown to live with the poor and destitute, and get a speaking gig at a conference. Move away, live in a cave, absorbing the fruits of a nature filled life. It is the REI romance many dream about.
“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”
Be a sad sack and God will love you for it. Give it all up and you will find heavenly peace. But what does this mean in our era if the traditional paths of humility are now points of honor?
What does it mean to humble yourself? What does that look like?
That’s worth an Ignatian exercise. Imagine this. Humble yourself. What does that look like? Where would you live? How would you eat? What could you do that would make your friends embarrassed about your situation? These aren’t the classic answers of times past that find a peculiar honor. Rather these answers are those paths which truly are humbling in our era.
No one teaches this because real humility is shameful, embarrassing, and entirely counterintuitive.
“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5)
Humility involves letting go. It involves releasing what we think we are owed because of our talents, gifts, efforts, and work.
Some people are humbled, and learn these lessons in ways they would have never chosen. “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
But, they have to wait for heaven because humility is not considered a boon. Those who cannot exalt themselves can find no favor, for God is a god of blessing and those who are not blessed must not know God. Thus, we must have the exalted be our leaders and show us the path. It is the succesful businessmen who know God, it is the skillful preacher who sees the real light. It is the one with so much on their plate that they cannot make time in any day of the week for rest who are able to best expound the nature of God to those who are so incomplete as to find themselves lost in the sea of frustrations.
That’s what we are taught, and so the call to humble ourselves becomes anathema, for it catches us between a calling to heaven and a calling to the Church.
And so being willing to brave the fierce rejection of humility becomes rare, and finding oneself being humbled becomes a time of despair. Those who are called the most, lose heart as they are humbled in a time which values only exalting.
So, what does humility look like? I suspect it looks somewhat different for each person, with only that core feeling of utter incompleteness always the same. Humility is the realization that I have nothing in this world, nothing for this world, and the world despises my place. That is our calling in this spiritual life, both to do and to respect those who are in humble situations. In this we see the work of the Spirit.
“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.”
This may be among the hardest spiritual lessons to learn. For it goes against the world, and in a real way goes against the patterns of the Church. But it is the way of the Spirit, “foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews.”
May those who are humbled and those who humble themselves persevere. May I continue to persevere. This is my calling and my prayer this morning.
The sky is cloudy and overcast, a fair wind blows making the branches dance and the windsock lively.
I’m finding myself more and more identifying with the title character of a book called The Idiot. This isn’t at all as negative as it sounds as he’s a rather fetching character in his own way. But, I guess that’s the point of it all, it’s his own way.
What’s curious is that each interaction I see in him I’ve seen in me. I’ve written letters with the same attitude, I’ve believed in people differently than they believe in themselves, all throughout I’ve shared the reactions as this character though in a decidedly different context.
I suppose this is comforting in a way, as finding oneself so thoroughly a “character” means there is something universal about oneself. That being said, I haven’t gotten to the end of the book, and the cover painting does not bode well.
Different context, to be sure. Though I kinda wish I felt free enough to post some of the quotes that particularly hit home.
Not all oneself is for public consumption I guess. Though, I guess anyone interested could just go ahead and read the book to discover how I perceive myself. Fortunately, for my continuing enigmatic status, it’s a long book that most won’t want to wade through… though curiously this also defines how most folks have reacted to me over the last few years as well. Likely because while in the midst of a story, one doesn’t have quite enough perspective to see it all for what it is and should just keep quiet at some points.
Oddly enough, I don’t think I keep quiet enough. That is something the desert fathers are still teaching me.
I turned my head and there she was, staring at me with an intensity that rather shocked me. She came out of nowhere, and it wasn’t until I heard her next to me that I became aware.
I stared back. She didn’t move, didn’t flinch, didn’t break her gaze even for a moment. For half a minute our eyes were locked, for half a minute I tried to understand what was going on in her mind, what had brought her to my home.
Then she flew away, and I still have no idea what was going on in that very, very, very small brain of hers.
I had just about finished the chapter in Dostoevsky, the aptly named The Idiot if you are curious. There was buzzing. I thought it was a bee, or a yellow jacket, for it is getting to be that season. When I turned, it was she, hovering not a foot and a half from my head… staring at me.
She stared at me for a good long while, and I don’t know why. Last I checked there wasn’t anything very flowery about me.
She flew away, but she came back. They always come back. This time not to stare, rather to land on my coffee cup. There she sat for ten minutes or so, her back to me, before making her final decision and leaving me forever.
I thought she was a bee, albeit a curious bee. It wasn’t until later that I learned her name. An American Hover fly.
This was my day. Sitting outside, reading Dostoevsky for the most part, interspersed with a wee bit of writing and determining who exactly was placed on the Cathedral chair of Rome. The birds were busy all around, and the sun was wonderfully warm, with an accompanying delightful cool mountain breeze that encouraged warmer clothes than first expected.
I felt a little lightheaded all day… but a good lightheaded, a free lightheaded, an “everything is doing okay” lightheaded. Something feels ‘different’ today, and it’s a good ‘different’. Not just my mood, there’s something in the air, only I don’t know what. So, in response I sat outside and read The Idiot and finding myself far too identifying with the title character.
It is more than just the title, by the by.
This evening, just before the sun went down, I saw two juncos land in my saplings singing with heavenly fervor. I thought the juncos were gone, I haven’t seen them for weeks. But, two of them have stuck around, the male looking particularly plump. I threw out some seed.
It was a day of sun and of Dostoevsky, in which a rather bold bee mimic found me of particular interest and the juncos surprised me long after I thought they were gone. I prayed for a while on a fallen tree while watching the sun go down behind the mountains to the west.
Of all of this I still can’t get past that hover fly. It’s not every day one finds a new favorite something I guess. And, really, everyone should have their own personal favorite insect.
Curious day, this. And for some reason I suspect I don’t even know half the reasons. Then again, maybe it is that very mystery which leaves me with a smile.
It’s foggy out. In a way this is absurd. Spring has come, and the bounty of Spring was filling the land. Now condensed cloud drips off the branches of cedars and firs, hitting the roof and sounding like rain. Both birds and beasts have yet to venture out, the ground and sky are still. The strong wind of last night has stopped, everything has stopped, except for the dripping of water off evergreen needles.
Except for this little contribution it seems I’ve fairly given up on the 21st century, and the 20th century for that matter. Among my considerations of the day I include pondering 5th century monastics, reading a 19th century Russian, or following the spiritual directives of a 16th century Spaniard.
The latter I actually am a little wary about. Not for the usual reasons a fundamentalist might give. I’ve no qualms about finding wisdom or light in traditions distinct from my own, especially as my own traditions delve not deeply into the depths. I’m wary because it involves a commitment, and not a wee one. It’s a month long journey into the spiritual life through a daily series of considerations and exercises meant to heal and illuminate one’s own spiritual path.
There’s no doubt that this is something I need. Last night I proclaimed to no one in particular, “I am no monk.” Of course, I’m not a monk in the practical sense, as I’m not committed to a religious order and am not even in the Catholic or Orthodox tradition, and thus would find becoming a real monk more than a little bit difficult. I mean this in more the classic way which doesn’t demand a formal commitment. It is more a way and pattern of the soul which emphasizes the internal eternal aspects above all other things. Every other part of life flows from this commitment.
I made my exclamation because I’m not very good at that commitment. I don’t take my spiritual life as serious as I should, or at least struggle for it as diligently as I ought. Thus, I am no monk, even if my pattern of life suggests such in the moment.
So, a specific act of regular discipline to reorder my heart, mind and soul might be a wonderful thing. I’ve come to the end of my own self-suggestions and reaching into the traditions of a long established pattern of spiritual renewal isn’t a bad idea. Except, of course, for the fact that doing such on my own is almost completely unacceptable to any who know the Spiritual Exercises. It’s always, always, to be done under the guidance of a spiritual director, who can help lead and guide the seeker through the journey of discovery. My spiritual directors these last twelve years have been dead for over a century at minimum so asking them for particular guidance might be crossing some rather sharp theological lines.
I’ve been led along a lonely path of discovery these many years, where no wise person has come along side as a tutor for my development. This is not acceptable, I know, but it is the reality. Had I been dependent on spiritual guidance I would not have ever discovered the depths, let alone found light in them. So, as my path has been as a solitary thus far, I don’t feel too much worry about pressing the exercises alone, even as I agree this is not to be recommended whatsoever.
The other problem is that I’m more than a little suspect of a result. Of course this is why having a spiritual director is good because they can see outside of our limited purview and point us to wisdom which swirls about that we cannot grasp alone. Others provide encouragement and light when we see darkness. That being the case I’m not as concerned about wisdom not being ‘out there’, more concerned about my ability to apprehend it. Well, I am worried about it being out there, as I figure I will be told the same thing all my recent spiritual explorations have told me… “Wait.”
Do I seek more wisdom because I dislike the wisdom I receive? Do I want answers because I have rejected the answers I have been given?
More than answers, however, I need perspective. Not that I don’t have perspective, it’s that I don’t feel it. I can say it, but not from my soul. I understand it, but when the storms come I am getting so knocked around it’s clear my lines are not as secure as they should be. I know, but obviously I don’t. That’s the problem. I’m burned over land.
So, I wonder and I wander, knowing that I’m not alone whatsoever in such thoughts, certainly not historically. I am just not sure what this all means for me today, or for me in my various interactions, or for me in that which I feel burdened to pray about in an ever increasing measure.
There is, I suppose, only to pray for continued wisdom and guidance. And hope… there must always be hope that as I continue to seek I shall in fact find, and more glorious than that, be found.
The oak trees are not quite sure of things yet. The day is fully Spring. The sun has been out most of the month, and the animals seem to be dancing at times, chasing each other through and around the branches. Some periwinkle decided to start the wildflower season underneath a fifteen foot tall cedar sapling. It gathers around the trunk, fairly in the shade, and sings with its bright purple flowers to all passers-by. The small sequoia planted in late winter seems to be finding its way in our mountain soil. Don’t get me started about the grasses. Our hills have the texture and color of the emerald isle after our historic rains.
No word from the oaks. I think I see small buds developing, but I’m not too sure. Old, brown, tattered leaves from last year still hang on. Having stayed in place with snow and storm they will only be pushed out, not pushed off. So, Spring is here but the oaks are cautious, knowing that this is a year in which surprising things happened. Personally, I’m not eager for the oak leaves to be seen in their fullness. For that will mean it is hot out, and I am loving the beautiful chill of the mountain this week.
It’s a curious thing I haven’t taken note of my soul more this week. Or maybe it is because my soul has endured curious things that I haven’t taken note. Nothing ground-breaking or even particularly interesting. Indeed, one could finish with the first word of that last sentence. This week has had nothing. But, that’s something. Or in that is something which is what makes it all so curious.
I’ve been pulled up as I’ve felt pulled down. Maybe it’s that I’ve felt pulled down as I’ve felt pulled up. Could be that the pulling down is the pulling up, which is the more curious way of looking at things.
What I do know is that as I’ve felt the encroaching Nothing in my life I have been driven to find a depth and focus which has eluded me for a long time.
When I first went out to Wheaton, almost twelve years ago now, I found myself in a spiritual environment where loneliness rather totally had its way with me. I wandered out to the front lawn of the school and prayed, “a hundred times a day, and almost as many at night.” Seemingly to no avail. Though I did graduate from there, a miracle of no mean proportions given my financial situation and the ludicrousness of my being there at all. Really, it was there that I became a monk of sorts, for it was in choosing Wheaton that I abandoned my social realities for divine realities. I left my home of California to find God. I had hoped to find more of a life, but in reality I lost a lot of my life in order to taste Eternal life. In those moments I tasted eternity, and that is a flavor which does not depart. It drives a soul, through the darkness, through the Void, into the depths.
This particular depth and focus which I found at Wheaton seems to have sparked back. And while it’s a good thing, it’s not necessarily a happy thing because it is almost entirely driven by the harshness of humility.
The reality of humility is a lot different than the concept is usually portrayed. The Pope is called the “Servant of the servants of God” denoting the humility of the position. Such opulence and power cannot know real humility however, but this is the kind of humility we all think to embrace. It is a rhetorical humility which has the language but not the power of real humility.
Real humility is like water. Or like the roots of a tree. It crumbles foundations, destroys monuments, reaching into each little crevice and ripping apart the whole. All that is left is nothing.
I have a friend who is dealing with a particularly frustrating situation tell me that he wasn’t quite sure what to do anymore. Common sense, pride and the lessons of personal power would tell him to act to restore his own being in the situation, to press onwards come what may, to know his rights and proclaim them, crushing that which seeks to disturb his noble ventures. “Move on, move on,” the apparent wisdom suggests. “Let loose, and move on.”
Only he can’t. Because he is praying and others are praying and the Spirit is doing a work, he can’t move on. He can’t move at all. He knew this, and felt he wasn’t supposed to embrace the suggested pattern so engaged in a counterintuitive pattern which would make all things right. Only nothing worked. Nothing changed. All the strategies and tactics did nothing until now he is left with nothing, emptied of strategies and tactics, only able to be. And this state of being is one in which strikes at the very soul of a person these days.
I told him I understand.
This is humility. Humility isn’t being aware of one’s issues and difficulties. Humility is the letting loose of everything we think we are owed and yet still not giving into despair. Humility is not depression. Humility is not loss. Humility is not existing in an underclass.
Humility is Nothing. It is the release of being after all things have been tried and all tactics came up empty. It is the realization that any assertion of Being will return empty, and any attempt to fight past will be repulsed by a heavy hand. It is the realization that even if great points can be made, they won’t be heard. It is the understanding that even if right, no one will listen.
It is where God wants us.
A hermit said, “When you flee from the company of other people, or when you despise the world and worldlings, take care to do so as if it were you who was being idiotic.”
Humility is when one is able to see past all our accumulated realities, all those things which we gather around us like cushions making a fort. Those things get washed away and we see ourselves, nothing other than our bare, naked selves before God, who yearns for us, not for our contributions. We taste of our stark reality and realize we are nothing, owed nothing. In this state trying to assert our being becomes a useless enterprise, for we have no being. Thus, one lets loose arguments and points. One leaves off attempts to assert authority and replaces this with apologies and quiet. One does not correct, one does not force, one does not expect. Depression has no more sustenance because depression is based on defeated expectation.
Humility is Nothing. It is the emptied soul. There are no more tactics, no more pursuits, no more thrills and no more machinations. There are no more tricks, no more motives. There is nothing and all is filled with nothing.
But… God is something. God is something and he is doing a work. He is doing a work which is beyond all things, filled with light and delight. There is nothing for me to do but to be, and there is nothing in me to accomplish what I feel called towards. There is nothing, but God is something and so in being pulled down I am being pulled up.
“I Patrick, a sinner, very badly educated, in Ireland, declare myself to be a bishop. I am quite certain that I have received from God that which I am. Consequently I live among barbarian tribes as an exile and refugee for the love of God; God himself is the witness that this is true. It is not that I was anxious to utter from my mouth anything in so harsh and unpleasant a manner. But I am compelled by zeal for God, and the truth of Christ has aroused me out of affection for my neighbors and children for whom I have given up country and kinsfolk and my own life even to death. If I am worthy, I exist to teach tribes for my God, even though I am despised in many quarters.”
Humility finds glory in God. First, however, there is humility, and the reality of humility is brutal and emptying. I see what I want, what I should be able to grasp after, except for the continual reminders that I am humbled.
I feel today what the city of Vicksburg must have felt. Not the citizens… the city itself. And that is a humility.
I too am not quite sure of things, and there is only to wait on God to fill these now barren branches.
Dawn flirts with the day, gently exploring the scenery before announcing its intentions. White frost covers cars and houses. The birds and beasts have not yet stirred, except for one lone raven flying by just now.
I woke up disturbed. There’s no getting around the fact. I woke up disturbed in soul, anxious and almost frantic to do something which would garner relief. I felt yesterday the overwhelming need for some measure of community, not the acts of community which are like artificial sweetener, giving a taste without the reality, but real open and honest community where I can be known as I know, accepted and pushed, delving into the depths with those few who have passed along the fiery road.
And yet, explorations down this path have been met with doors, roadblocks, detours, or accidents. Not all paths are closed, and scouts are exploring the more promising trails. Still, the yearning I woke up with is not realized, nor will it be today.
Take a few steps, one might say. And this is true. Except for that vague gnawing in my soul which urges me to wait yet longer for some elusive reality that will transcend my own misplaced efforts to solve a crisis. Samuel is late, you see, and the battle is already started. Shall I sacrifice or shall I wait? Shall my urgency and cowardice, even in embracing positive action, be my guiding light. Or shall I, through all things, settle myself with the peace of the Spirit who works in all things?
This is not according to popular wisdom. Ours is a go-getting world, in which the ones who achieve are the ones who hunt down their achievement. There is certainly something in that. But, the Church was not founded on such. It was founded on people who came from various paths, and who prayed together, or alone, waiting on God. It was built on Peter, the rock who waited, and stumbled, and waited some more until his power came from outside his own strength. It was built by folks such as Antony who left everything to become nothing so as to find all things.
So what is it I am waiting for? What is that “thing” that the previous post implied? What is my Sunday?
I don’t know.
There are “things”, changes of my life and soul which could be affected vitally by physical blessings, whether it be a paycheck which supports my soul’s yearnings, finding that ‘special someone’ who ignites heretofore diminished aspects of my reality, or maybe something which doesn’t come to mind.
These are not the answers, however, even if they might be a trigger, pillars on which faith is to be built, much as the Land was for the Israelites.
At the core, however, is not a committed relationship or a steady income or a place of private and quiet dwelling. At the core is that ‘strange warmth’ of which Wesley speaks. It is that Pentecost of the soul, in which what is believed becomes infused with power and light and hope so that all of life is reinterpreted.
To see the physical aspects as being the answers is to infuse each with too much power. It would be to incite disappointment when nothing lives up to the ultimate inner yearning for eternity.
So I wait. I wait for the physical realities, but these are not at the root of my pining. They may come sooner rather than later, or later rather than sooner. Without the prevenient work of the Holy Spirit, however, these will leave me only vaguely satisfied and still hollow.
I look to these as markers in a way, but look past these for the answers to my soul. I can embrace these only if I do not embrace them as my satisfaction. Only the Spirit can bring the peace I need, only the Three-in-One can fill my soul with that which I require. Until God works, I can only wait. For it is the peace which I want, which we all want. With peace and fullness anything, anywhere can be a place of light and hope and joy, no matter the circumstances, no matter the company or lack thereof.
This is what Paul tells us, at least. And he was one who ran the race.
The fog came in last night, billowing by. Then the rain began just after I turned out my light. I fell asleep with my thoughts wandering and the sound of sleet hitting the roof echoing through the room. There are few sounds more comforting than rain at night. This morning everything was covered in a thin layer of white frost, which because the sun works as it should here in Southern California, has now melted.
Birds are busy, and happy, and singing, likely because they had a worse night than I did, and are that much more appreciative of the beautiful morning. A nuthatch tweets as it hangs upside down on a bird seed holder right outside my window. A squirrel with a swollen nose leaps onto the rail, and tries to hide from the view of the squirrel already present. Two jays screech at each other on a nearby branch. In the upper branches of a ten foot tall line sapling a chipmunk bathes in the sun, engaging what appears to be a tail activated chirp. Each chirp is combined with a flick of its striped tail, which goes into a swish when the chirping stops.
Someone mentioned the other day that I tend to artfully change the subject when the subject turns to me. Or not so artfully, as the person did notice. Part of this is because I am, most certainly, a Saturday Christian. What did Peter have to say about himself on that Saturday long ago. He had plenty to say on Monday, and forty days later he couldn’t keep quiet. On Saturday? There was only hope and faith that what had happened was for a reason, a reason which had not yet resolved itself into a reality.
It isn’t that I avoid the questions. I know myself. That is an art. The Desert Father Poemen said, “He who knows himself is a man.” This very page is a working out of those core questions. But, I don’t know what to say to others. How do I speak of the vague mists within my soul until they resolve into something palpable. I know… but I don’t trust hardly anyone to listen. So I change the subject, much as Joseph must have done when a fellow prisoner asked if he had any dreams when he was younger.
She was noting that she really didn’t know anything about my past, not that I know too much about her past. This is true, though I suspect we both share the same feeling we are very much alike, and share a similar path, even with our distinctive pasts. So, not only do I not like to share about my present overmuch, except to the whole world (or at least the fraction of the wee bit that pass through here) via the Internet,I am wary about sharing my history for much the same reasons.
I got to thinking why this might be so. I realized that it basically comes down to the fact that I am not Catholic. I’m quite not Catholic if this isn’t apparent, and happily so for a variety of reasons, some of which have to do with the reasons why my story is difficult to explain because I’m not Catholic.
There is little doubt in my mind that had I lived a thousand years ago I would have become a priest. My brother would have inherited the title and the estate, and I would have gone into the Church to provide spiritual and temporal support for the broader family. This was the responsibility of literate second sons.
What is also true is that had I been born the same exact year I was born, yet born into a Catholic family rather than a Protestant family I almost certainly would be a priest or in a religious order right now. My heart, passion, dedication, focus over these last twelve years points almost exclusively to the reality that I have been effectively living the life of a religious or priest, except for the bit about being a Catholic. Had I been Catholic, the path would look almost exactly the same only I would be engaged by a Church that promotes and values all three strands of Christian devotion, and would be able to answer easily any questions about my calling.
But, like I said, I’m not Catholic. I’m happily not Catholic, without any thought of becoming such, because of matters of theology and because I don’t hold whatsoever to the absolute insistence that a religous or vocational servant of Christ must remain single. I am single, that is true. But, I hold this to be a flexible reality, not a permanent vow, dependent on the very fluid work of the Holy Spirit in my life. Indeed, as there really isn’t in me anything that affirms a lifelong singleness for my own journey I am glad I am not part of a Church which insists on this for me. Quite the opposite in fact is true, I feel that my journey is not a solitary one, though my learning has required walking the journey alone for the time being. I’m happy I’m not Catholic because I would miss out on that part of me which feels a companion on this journey is not only a delight, but a key aspect of my own participation in the Spirit.
Understanding if I were Catholic I would almost certainly be a priest helps me view my past decade with more clarity. All my choices were directed towards pursuing God first, which left out the pursuit of most other things in my life which makes the typical Protestant content. I am an evangelical monk of sorts, with the reading, dedication and temperament of a monk without the insistence on a specific way of life to spend such a calling. Thus I have more fluidity in my life… but also lack the structural support which helps provide succinct answers to questions about my present and past.
A person can see why I change the subject after wading through these previous paragraphs.
Another realization hit me this morning as I was waking up. Twelve years ago I left my house to walk down the block to get some Starbuck’s coffee. Halfway there, someone slapped a number on my chest and on my back. I began to jog when I noticed others jogging past me. Some tables were set up and people were handing out cups of water, which I happily took as I went past. I never quite arrived at the Starbucks, for it was seemingly always one more block away.
Four miles into this I realized I wasn’t on my way to Starbucks at all, but had somehow gotten myself in a marathon.
Eight miles after this I realized I wasn’t just supposed to run a marathon, I was supposed to win it. The thought was exhausting, because I woke up thinking I was just going to get a vente cappuccino and maybe spend an hour reading through the Times. Only after twelve miles there wasn’t getting around the fact that I was involved in a marathon and I was supposed to run faster and faster as I went on in order to win the prize.
“Why are you running?” the person jogging next to me asks.
“I have no idea,” I respond. “I didn’t realize I was running a marathon at all until the fourth mile or so.”
Needless to say there are reasons why I am wary about answering questions, mostly because I don’t know much of the answers, and the entire interpretation of my present and past reality insists on a future which is both unrealized and decisive. My only hope, and thus my present singleness in a way, is that the other person must first see through the Spirit’s lense of the future in order to understand my reality. Without that there’s really no point in me answering questions at all.
With that, however, is a bond. This is a bond which shares the long fire lined path preventing those on it from going right or left. There is only to keep on it until it breaks open into a grassy meadow where a few singed people gather. These people recognize the struggle and recognize each other. In this is a beauty which makes it all worthwhile, even if incomprehensible to anyone outside of the meadow.
Again… it is easy to see why I generally change the subject when the question is, “What’s up with you, Patrick?”
It does feel nice to write it out… with hoped for clarity coming sooner rather than later in both the writing and the understanding. Such is the reality of being a Saturday Christian.
Curiously enough, I think I’m going to spend the rest of my day reading through the texts of Vatican II. I do not seek irony… but I do embrace it when it happens by.