I am praying Advent this year with Cameron Bellm’s “Advent with St. Oscar Romero,” and the reality of my life is that my first day, I was looking at last year’s edition instead of this year’s. The takeaway of the day was:: if God was present in all the upheaval and injustice taking place in El Salvador in 1977, when Romero wrote the homily I was praying with, then that applies today, too. God is present. Even in this. The good, yes, but also the bad.
Given the reality of pandemic, persistent injustice, fake news, and the constant apocalyptic thinking that characterizes both sides of the political spectrum these days, this seems like a particularly beautiful thought for this Advent.
On days when I ride out to the Missouri River, I often take the book The Ignatian Adventure (Kevin O’Brien, S.J.) to guide reflection and prayer. Yesterday, the Scripture verse was Jesus asking, “What are you looking for?”
Instantly, I thought: “Peace.”
Then I thought: “No, it can’t be that easy.”
As previously established on this blog, my Enneagram personality type is #1, The Crusader. I am hyper-aware of everything in the world that is NOT AS IT SHOULD BE, and I feel if I do not expand my last drop of energy attempting to fix it, I am derelict in my duty. I am very hard on others, but I’m harder on myself. Integrity tops the list of traits I value most.
None of this facilitates a peaceful spirit.
Further complicating the acquisition of a peaceful spirit is the sheer intensity of family life in a time of division and pandemic. Peace, for me, is achieved in solitude and quiet. These days, solitude is hard to come by. I walk around my house all day turning off things people turned on, closing doors they opened, yelling at them to put away things they got out and left (food, dishes, dirty socks, electronics, you name it), and to quit annoying each other out of sheer boredom… and (let’s call a spade a spade) boy mischief.
And all of you who are out there feeling smug right now about “well, if you’d just teach them,” just remember how resistant your own kids are/were to the lessons you tried to teach. And imagine being stuck in a house for seven-plus months trying to correct such patterns with people whose mental health is as precarious as your own, during one of the most blisteringly, ugly, divisive times our country has ever experienced.
So yes. When Jesus asks, “What are you looking for in following me?” the honest answer is: “peace.” The peace that comes from assurance that everything is going to be okay, and not just someday on the far side of death, but here, in this world. This beautiful, fragile, fractured world given to us as practice for Heaven.
I love this quote from Julian of Norwich. It is so comforting–except when people use the quote to suggest that we shouldn’t be worrying about solving real world problems because the only thing that matters is what comes later. As if you’re ever going to be allowed INTO the world beyond without working for its realization on this side of the great divide.
And yet, also, I have been slowly waking to a new insight, these past weeks. Sometimes situations are so messed up, there IS no human solution. The division in America, for instance. No matter who wins this election, the problem at the foundation isn’t going away. We don’t have a solution for the ugliness and bitterness and extremism of our politics. We’ve chained ourselves to them.
There must be away out—a way toward unity and cooperation—but I can’t see it, and I don’t have much faith that anyone else can, either.
So my prayers, of late, have been asking God to show us the path we can’t find on our own. And recognizing that the path TO that path may be so steep, tick-and-poison-ivy-infested, and rugged, we may just have to take it on total faith that we’re heading the right direction at all. That regardless of what I can see or comprehend–no matter what it looks like right now–all will, eventually, be well.
There’s so much bad stuff going on in the world–and even in our houses, the wearing daily grind of togetherness causes so much stress–that it feels almost insensitive to acknowledge out loud how beautiful some of this stay-at-home experience is.
How can we find beauty in our world when so many are suffering and dying, when so many have had the pain of losing loved ones they can’t even be with in their last hours? Can’t gather to bury?
But beautiful things are happening in our homes alongside the stress of isolation. With the punishing busy-ness removed, creativity has flowered, giving rise to new traditions. My family kind of hopes the birthday parades continue! For Mother’s Day and birthdays this spring we wrote up affirmations and left them hidden around the house for the honoree. We’ve cooked well, regularly eaten together on the deck. Taken lots of walks and bike rides, done lots of work in the yard. All because we weren’t chasing the futility of the rat race all over town.
And for all of that, in the midst of this upheaval, I give thanks to God.
Posting here has become sort of irregular, but I doubt that comes as much of a surprise. We’re all stumbling along through this new reality, experiencing Holy Week and sharing in the passion of Jesus with a depth of experience that gives it new meaning, even while we lack the emotional bandwidth to fully unpack it as it unfolds.
It seems everyone is passing around things to keep us busy and make the time pass in this brave new world, but I don’t need anything else to do! Some structure, a break in the unceasing grind of togetherness? Yes. But not more to do. I’m supervising four kids’ schoolwork now, and I’ve learned that if I take the time to do something of my own, something for the kids is going to be sacrificed. Hence: irregular posting at Intentional Catholic.
Yesterday I managed to do a quick web search for words of comfort from the saints, and this one popped out immediately. It speaks to me about a particular area of my life right now, but it also speaks to the larger situation where we all find ourselves, working from home and supervising children in an intensity of togetherness we could scarcely imagine a month ago. There is a meaning to be found in this time, an opportunity to be embraced.
This is my prayer for my family every morning and every night right now:
I’ve been thinking lately, as I watch the skyrocketing numbers of people watching daily Masses (895 people watched my parish’s Saturday Mass, in whole or in part–a Mass that *might* get 75 ordinarily) and other religious formation events online, that we as Church have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when the bans are lifted and we are together again.
People will be back, and they will be spiritually hungry; for the first time in years, they will have been forced–collectively–to examine their lives. Not that individuals among us haven’t had this experience before, but now we’ve done it as a Church. This means that we, collectively, as Church will be aware of the gift that is the parish, the Sunday Eucharistic Liturgy, and our communities.
We need to be ready for this. We’re going to have a window that we have not had in my lifetime, for sure, and maybe for many generations. We don’t want to squander this. People who recognize the gift they’ve been given are people who are more open to giving back. We have to be ready to give what’s needed and to ask for help.
And if we take advantage of this window, we could revitalize our weary, beaten-down Church.
At 8:25 on January first, I walked into Jazzercise and was pleasantly surprised to see which instructor was waiting on the stage. This woman is an unfailingly positive human being. The kind who is down-to-earth but never says anything negative about anyone. In other words, she’s not saccharine and fake, but genuinely sees good everywhere and in everyone.
This may not come as a shock to anyone who’s read my angsty posts, but just in case it’s unclear:
I don’t identify with this personality trait.
I admire it. I can list two other people off the top of my head who routinely blow my mind by their unfailing ability to see and comment only upon the good. But it’s not me.
I went into class that morning with two things: 1) a certainty that I already knew the word to guide my spiritual growth this year, and 2) an incredibly bad attitude about my family life. This latter reality was based upon a) the fact that I haven’t been sleeping well and b) discovering at 7:55 a.m. on New Year’s Day that my chromosomally-gifted daughter’s last act of 2019 was to put the unrinsed pasta bowls in the (wrong) cabinet instead of the dishwasher.
Over the course of the hour I spent bathing in the positivity radiating from the Jazzercise stage, I realized I was on the wrong track with my word of the year. As important as “charity” might be in my life, there’s another fundamental skill I need to develop before I can be successful in pursuing it. Specifically, the predisposition to see the good instead of the bad.
After Jazzercise, I went up to the instructor and said, “I just want you to know that I so admire your positivity.”
“Oh, you are so sweet!” she said. “How can I not be positive? There’s just so much to be positive about!“
I spread my hands, because right there was the difference between positive people and, well, me.
In the past year I’ve come to recognize and accept that, in addition to people who see the good in everything, there also need to be people to call out evil and hypocrisy. This insight came, in fact, out of the mouth of another of those inspiringly positive women I mentioned earlier.
The trouble is, a person who is on fire to see God’s kingdom made manifest on earth tends to get really angsty about ev.er.y.thing. We tend to become unable to see anything other than calamity at every swipe of the screen.
I know that one year is not going to turn me into my New Years Jazzercise instructor. Let’s be frank. The rest of my life isn’t enough time to make me into that person.
And that’s not what I’m trying for. It’s not who God made me to be. God gave me the ability to put words together for a reason, and that means pricking consciences and asking myself and everyone around me to see where our attitudes and behaviors in the real world don’t live up to the faith we claim to believe. That’s my calling.
But I will be a happier and holier person if I can angle myself two or three or five degrees in the direction of focusing on the good. I will be better able to roll with the punches when the school district calls unnecessary snow days. When the parish changes the locks, causing me all kinds of headache and extra things to remember in planning choir practices, when I already can’t keep my life straight. When the strain of juggling kids’ concerns takes more emotional energy than I have to offer it.
And I’ll be a better example of Christian living if I can turn the energy I’ve spent focused inward, on negativity, instead into recognizing, and then affirming, the good around me.
So this is the shape of my spiritual goal for 2020: to see the good.