Friday, August 22, 2008

Feast of the Queenship of Mary

Today is my name day ... I was named after the Queen of Heaven, Regina Coeli.

And here's where I feel my inadequacy as a Catholic ... I just don't have a whole lot of warm mushy feelings about the Blessed Mother. I can tell you why I think she's awesome ... she lent her humanity, her body, to the Incarnation. Wow. Her young girl body, her womb, contained GOD, all the power and glory and infiniteness that is her Maker and ours; it is Mary's flesh that joined to His divinity when He wanted to become one of us. I think that deserves Queenship, and veneration. But it doesn't equal daughterly devotion. I think of her sometimes as mother-in-law: "Mother Mary, help me to love your Son better, to be a better wife to Him." But I've never felt like she's my own mother. I've never felt a whole lot for her at all, except awe for her role in the great love story of the Incarnation.

We Catholics often get accused of idolatry for venerating the Blessed Virgin and other lesser saints. I have to say, I think many Catholics DO cross that line between veneration and worship, and I think the Church is culpable for not teaching the distinction more strongly. A lot of people firmly believe in the saints' power to work miracles in their own right, rather than the more limited power to intercede effectively for us based on being closer to God than we are. Or am I wrong to make that distinction? Didn't the apostles work miracles in Jesus's name? No, but who worked the miracle, really? The apostle or our Father? Well, I think it was God working by their intercession, wasn't it?

There is a "communion of saints", of course there is. If one believes that life goes on after bodily death, then of course the beloved dead are still with us. They see and hear us, even if we don't see and hear them. We pray for each other, we ask each other to pray for us here in the face to face world. Why shouldn't the saints still pray for us 'over yonder'? God does see and hear them, and what's even better they see Him face to face. Honestly, though, I feel as or more comforted by the prayers of people here in my face-world, or even people with whom I have interacted online, who have shown real concern for me. Or my grandfather -- who was an atheist. I bet he's not an atheist any more! :) And well, we've already discussed my heretical unbelief in eternal damnation. My Abuelo is all right, I truly do believe it.

But mostly I just go straight to God in prayer myself. And I guess I think that's when crossing the "idolatry" line gets a little dangerous, when people pray to the saints instead of to God. Pray with me, brothers and sisters, but your prayers can't substitute for my own relationship with God. At least, maybe just at the very beginning, when I needed God but hadn't found Him yet, or maybe if I'm under a lot of stress and my own prayer life is lacking, then your prayers can carry me. But if I can find time to pray to the saints, I'd better have time to pray to God.

Seems a lot of people conceive of God as an angry old white man up there on His throne, and they go to Mary or some other saint because they find them less intimidating. But that's a problem, I think ... God is God, we can't go around Him! And He's NOT an angry old man, He's a loving spouse ... a baby boy ... a suffering one of us ... a mother who aches for us, her children, and nurtures us. That's GOD.

Mary is human. I already have a human mother ... so no, I don't really get the deep devotion to the BVM. I respect her, I look up to her, I call her awesomely blessed ... and I can talk to her as big sister, or as wise mother-in-law ... but I'm really all about her Maker and mine, I'm all about the divine baby who borrowed from Mary's humanity to join Himself forever to me and all of us.


Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

So now I am addicted to the online recovery forum ... LOL
But did not go to the face to face meeting today. Will probably go tomorrow, because I have many open questions about the role of AA, or the 12 steps generally, in my life right now. Why did this come up now? What am I needing? I had never let go of the spiritual principles of the program, except that I seem never to have grasped the "We" part of it. Why was I drawn to meetings now? (that stomach-ache ... oh, yeah)

On the online forum they've got all kinds of "insanities" bumping up against each other, so I don't feel, so much as in the face-to-face meetings, the need to justify what isms I have ... am I an alcoholic or not? I don't know, and I'm not sure how much it really matters. I have always known that I have the same spiritual & emotional disease, because the 12-step medicine worked for me, it did restore me to sanity. Folks, I was truly insane, and my life was truly unmanageable. Whether I've also got the physical disease, or the potential to develop it, is not so important for me, today, because I can see that abstinence is conducive to my spiritual growth and sanity either way. I want to be a monk, and that, today, is enough motivation not to drink. And enough motivation to work the steps.

I also want to be a hermit ... but am open to that call developing differently than I had imagined, if God is trying to tell me to be less isolated. Solitude and silence are very good for me, but I do not yet know where the right balance is. The nice thing is that this "hermit" thing is pretty recent in the Church, and still pretty loose as far as rules and regs go, so as long as my bishop and I agree that my way of life constitutes a "stricter separation from the world" according to Canon 603, I think I can be a consecrated hermit.

Still looking for the intersection between my Catholic monastic life and my 12-step faith ...
Looking for a way to incorporate 12-stepping into my f2f life in an honest way, on the theory that f2f friends will not let me get away with b.s. I could probably get away with online....
I could look around for a 12-stepping nun or monk -- there are gobs of religious orders around here, bound to be someone local.... I do have a monastic spiritual director, but he doesn't know so much about AA or its offspring ... at this point in my life I am comfortable with my celibacy, have good boundaries, would be fine with a mature male sponsor, especially if he is also celibate ... though a woman would be preferable. Though it is nice to be able to do 5th step with my sponsor/spiritual director and get absolved, sacramentally.

So ... glad to be here. Cross posted pretty much this same on that forum.....

Regina Terrae

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

10th Step or 4th Step?

I had titled the last post "Ongoing Conversion", then today's AA meeting topic was the 10th Step: "Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it." Cute. OK, that was a good place to be today. I realize that I never really gave up on "the program", although I stopped going to the meetings many years ago. But I think I could use a little kick in the pants, as far as my spiritual progress is concerned ... so there is something here for me.

I never did a really systematic 4th step ("Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves"). I have, of course, examined my conscience and been to sacramental confession. But it would probably be a good thing to set aside some substantial time to do a really systematic, "searching" moral inventory. To really take some time with it.

On the other hand, seems like my main failing, the center of all my failings, is self-centeredness. Too much navel-gazing? Maybe I can find a way to balance the two? I still need to do the self-examination ... but this whole past year and a half has been all about looking within, one way or another, hasn't it? Maybe I should find some volunteer work to do, or something, concurrent with the "4th step"? Well anyway, going to AA meetings takes me outside of myself in some sense.

Fr. H wants me to start thinking about a monastic rule for myself. To include a certain minimum period of daily contemplation! Yay, Fr. H, I like that! I get so worked up with guilt at not working diligently enough, but a monk also has to practice holy leisure. I end up doing neither, just wasting time......

Off to walk around the lake ... holy leisure for today.


Ongoing conversion

Or maybe the lesson I need to learn is detachment. Yesterday I was laughing at myself, "So, sister, you want to be a monk? So you're willing to give up sex for life, and you're balking at alcohol? You do know that's not normal, right?"

Just then an e-mail from Fr. H:
"In today's gospel Peter says to Jesus, 'We have given up everything and followed you.' 'Followed'. Insight: the following is all and everything."
Just that, no more. Ha, ha! He didn't know then that I had been to AA, because he has been in retreat. But we will meet this morning.

So maybe it's still not about alcohol for me, but I do need to be willing to give it up to follow Jesus. Maybe my old 1st step, 22 years ago, is still good, because I sure did feel powerless then, and my life was sure unmanageable. Maybe what I need to do now is a systematic, thorough 4th through 9th step. I did go to Confession way back then, as I was also coming into the Church, and let go of the really big stuff, the major sources of shame and guilt. But as a 4th step it wasn't systematic, and I haven't really done an 8th step. I guess if I have harmed people it's mostly been through sins of omission ... excessive introversion, self-centeredness, self-sufficiency, being unwilling to be involved with people. Case in point: I worked 19 years at my old job, and a lot of people wanted me to keep in touch. It's been a year now, and I have kept in touch with all of about 2 of them. I've blown off even the people I was pretty close to, even the people I really liked. Just can't be bothered.

But all this is a little confusing for a potential hermit. How much and what kind of involvement with people is right for me? What do you want of me, God? How available shall I be, how involved, how interdependent? Where is the healthy balance between hermit-monk and self-absorbed?

I kind of wish it was alcohol bringing me to my knees. AAs are the only people I know who are really willing to confront their character defects intensively and throughout their lives. They're the real monks, more so than any of the church monks I know. I wish I could find, or maybe I could found, a 12-step program for ordinary seekers of God. Then again, as long as I'm willing to not drink, maybe the AAs will let me stay a while and work it out with them, even if I don't say "and I'm an alcoholic."

Anyway ... 3 days in, 3 meetings done, 27 more to go before I even feel like I have anything to base a discernment on, and that's a bare minimum. I am setting myself that 30 days (no, 30 meetings -- I might not be able to go every day) threshhold for a first evaluation of whether or not God might be trying to tell me something, whether maybe I should keep going back for a while longer. I think that's fair. I have also signed into one of the online recovery forums, and I guess I'll have to call one of the local women on the phone, too.

That's me for now, signing off............

Monday, August 18, 2008

AA cont'd

Did I say the great lesson I need to learn is to need people? Ha ha, I went to the noon AA meeting, and the topic was ego. Yes. Well. OK. I still don't have the first step down, but I will go to some more meetings......


I went to an AA meeting yesterday. Not happy about it. Why? I go on and on about how wonderful the Program is, how it saved my life, gave me God, yadda yadda yadda. 20 years ago. But back then, it wasn't about alcohol for me, and I don't want to give up alcohol. I like alcohol. I like wine, I like vodka, I like gin, I like scotch. I like caipirinhas and mojitos. I like beer sometimes, and I like hard apple cider. I like champagne and I like mimosas, for special occasions. It's not that I like getting drunk ... beyond a warm glow, I find drunk unpleasant. I like to drink the stuff, I like the flavors of it. Especially red wine, which has to be the toughest one of all on my stomach.

My stomach won't let me drink any more. My body rejects the stuff. Not, unfortunately, at the time when I'm drinking it, but the next day. Not because I drink more than I used to, in fact I get sick from drinking a lot less than I used to. I could probably load up on antacids and Excedrin and survive it, but that just doesn't seem like a really good answer to me. It's an allergy, like AA says, but for me it's really like a physical allergy. I can eat hot sauce all day long and feel just fine, but a bottle of red wine, over the course of an evening, even with a meal in between ... nope, not any more.

So.... Well, there are other reasons to quit. Alcohol is an expensive habit. Even without buying expensive wine, good quality relatively cheap stuff is still $10 a bottle. I can garden all I want, grow my own veggies, cook from scratch, and I'm still spending money as if I were eating dinner out every night. I do not want to go back, EVER, to the kind of job I would have to have to support an expensive lifestyle. Never again. I want to take a vow of poverty, which I think of as a vow of simple living. Of course, I'd love to establish a cider orchard and make my own.... Sigh.

But then there's another reason, which is that I am lazy and depressive by nature, and alcohol is, duh, a depressant. It is not doing anything for my energy level, right? And it's fattening, too, of course, which is not good for my energy level either. That simple lifestyle requires manual labor; I don't need anything that saps my energy.

For all those reasons, I have resolved in the past to give the stuff up, and I have failed. I didn't even make it through Lent last time. I guess I am an alcoholic. I am self-indulgent and impulsive in general ... but my body is reacting to alcohol, specifically, like an allergy. So I guess I am an alcoholic. Why do I feel such resistance? Such resistance to going back to AA? I don't want to need other people. I don't mind needing God! God is great, God is good, God is there for me right here in my living-room. I don't have to go to meetings to find God. I don't have to interact with people. Thank God, at least they don't smoke in (most) meetings any more. Of course, I smoked myself, back then ... it would probably be just enough to keep me home now, though. But think about it -- I want to be a hermit! I want to be alone. I don't mind needing neighbors, mountain old-timers, to teach me how to can, or to garden better, or to build or shoot or gather wild mushrooms or do whatever it takes to live alone in the mountains. But I don't want to need people for my faith life. That's just between me and God, right? I am un-directable, and I am a contemplative, a solitary by nature. Right?

I wish! Fact is, my prayer life, my contemplative life, my relationship with God is not what I want it to be, either. I remember the honeymoon years, many years ago, when He was so present to me all the time..... When all I had to do was to turn my thoughts to Him and there He was, He would just come flooding in..... When everything I thought and said would call to mind some Bible verse, or something from the Mass or the Office or the Rosary. I used to pray the rosary and find insights, learn things about Mary or about myself and God.

So to hell with alcohol, I am thinking that the lesson I need to learn today is to need people. How to need people. Tough lesson for someone who wants to be a consecrated hermit.... It's one thing to go out once a week for Sunday Mass, but if I really make a decision to do AA I'd have to go to 2 or 3 meetings a week (no requirements, but I think it's what it would take to really do it well, and there's no point in doing it half way). I guess I should have ordered Merton's No Man is an Island from Amazon last week, instead of his Thoughts in Solitude. LOL (yes, at least I can laugh about it).

Actually, thinking of it this way is making me feel better. After all, more than anything else, I want to devote my life to God. I want to grow in my relationship with Him, and I don't feel like I have been growing too much lately. I have been crying out for some help to pull me closer to Him. Surprise, surprise, if that help is supposed to come through other people. I know very well that that's a popular spiritual principle that has never made much sense to me ... it's a gap in my spiritual understanding. I am woefully self-centered.

OK, God, I will make a leap of faith. I want nothing more than to grow in You, to be liberated from my limitations, to be all that I can be, at peace, confident, fully alive. I'm ready to try AA. I'll go to that noon meeting today, with a better attitude, and maybe even ask around for a sponsor. Hopefully someone Catholic, but it doesn't have to be. I liked A, and she gave me her number (these people are so good ... they gave me a Big Book at my first meeting yesterday, and all the women at the meeting wrote their phone numbers in it. God bless them). I was one of only two white people in the group, and the ones who talked didn't sound like the upper-middle-class professionals I used to be, but at least they were somewhere in the vicinity of my age or older. Last time I tried going to an AA meeting, a few years ago, they were kids, and I didn't relate too well. (Wow, it makes me happy to know that age feels like more of a difference than race. Yes, go Obama). Anyway, I'm exaggerating, yesterday one person in particular stands out in my mind as having sounded like a middle-class, educated woman whose background might have something in common with mine, even though she's black & I'm white. I don't care, no I don't even want everyone there to be like me, but it does help having something other than drinking in common with at least some of them, speaking the same language. I'm sure I'll find some Catholics, too.

New twist in the path. God help me.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

St. Gregory of Nyssa on the AA 4th & 5th Steps, Examination of Conscience and Confession

Today's office of readings features an excerpt from On Perfection by Saint Gregory of Nyssa (note: this is the reading proper to the date; has opted to show the reading proper to the saint of the day, Maximilian de Kolbe. Both options are correct). I am struck by how closely he reflects the AA Big Book and 12 & 12's discussion of the 4th step: "Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves" and the 5th step: "Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs."

St. Gregory quotes St. Paul,
"'He is our peace, for he has made both one.' Since we think of Christ as our peace, we may call ourselves true Christians only if our lives express Christ by our own peace. As the Apostle says: 'He has put enmity to death.' We must never allow it to be rekindled in us in any way but must declare that it is absolutely dead. Gloriously has God slain enmity, in order to save us; may we never risk the life of our souls by being resentful or by bearing grudges. We must not awaken that enmity or call it back to life by our wickedness, for it is better left dead. No, since we possess Christ who is peace, we must put an end to this enmity and live as we believe he lived. He broke down the separating wall, uniting what was divided, bringing about peace by reconciling in his single person those who disagreed."

The Big Book says
"Resentment is the 'number one' offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else. From it stem all forms of spiritual disease, for we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick."
And again,
"It is plain that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness. To the precise extent that we permit these, do we squander the hours that might have been worth while. But with the alcoholic, whose hope is the maintenance and growth of a spiritual experience, this business of resentment is infinitely grave. We found that it is fatal. For when harboring such feelings we shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the Spirit. The insanity of alcohol returns and we drink again. And with us, to drink is to die. If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. The grouch and the brainstorm were not for us. They may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics these things are poison."
Gregory says,
"In the same way, we must be reconciled not only with those who attack us from outside, but also with those who stir up dissension within; flesh then will no longer be opposed to the spirit, nor the spirit to the flesh. Once we subject the wisdom of the flesh to God's law, we shall be re-created as one single man at peace. Then, having become one instead of two, we shall have peace within ourselves. Now peace is defined as harmony among those who are divided. When, therefore, we end that civil war within our nature and cultivate peace within ourselves, we become peace. By this peace we demonstrate that the name of Christ, which we bear, is authentic and appropriate."

The Big Book also equates remorse with resentment, the dissension within: "Sometimes it was remorse and then we were sore at ourselves." More to the point I guess is the 3rd step: "Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him." It is by this step that we "subject the wisdom of the flesh to God's law," and "end that civil war within our nature."

St. Gregory goes straight on to the 5th step: "When we reject the deeds of darkness and do everything in the light of day, we become light and, as light should, we give light to others by our actions." St. Paul says to the Ephesians, "
Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention the things done by them in secret; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light."

The Big Book says this about admitting our shortcomings:
"We pocket our pride and go to it, illuminating every twist of character, every dark cranny of the past. Once we have taken this step, withholding nothing, we are delighted. We can look the world in the eye. We can be alone at perfect peace and ease. Our fears fall from us. We begin to feel the nearness of our Creator. We may have had certain spiritual beliefs, but now we begin to have a spiritual experience.... We feel we are on the Broad Highway, walking hand in hand with the Spirit of the Universe."
Bill Wilson didn't use mystical language like that easily, glibly. He meant it. I know, I have been there myself. The 12 and 12 uses similar language: "The dammed-up emotions of years break out of their confinement, and miraculously vanish as soon as they are exposed," and "this feeling of being at one with God and man, this emerging from isolation through the open and honest sharing of our terrible burden of guilt...."

The paradox is the same one that St. Paul saw, that St. Gregory saw, that AA sees so intensely: as long as the "deeds of darkness" remain hidden, they are "shameful even to mention"; but "everything exposed by the light ... becomes light." Confession transforms shame and guilt, makes them light. There is more: once our guilt has become light, it also sheds light for others. Self-satisfied piety does nothing to enlighten one's neighbors; what is enlightening is a humble awareness of one's own flaws, along with slowness to anger and quickness to forgive, and humble gratitude for the grace and mercy of God.

Whether you're an alcoholic, a teetotaller or anything in between, I highly recommend reading the Big Book (actually titled Alcoholics Anonymous): full text at and the 12 & 12 (Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions): as far as I know, not available online, but both books can be purchased from Amazon and many other sources.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Hermitage Retreat Report

The week in West Virginia was wonderful, but I am having a hard time putting it into words that can really convey the experience.... It was about Silence and Solitude, a suspension of words, writing about it seems almost to negate it.

Oh yes, I could live like that, happily. Hidden away in a little house in the woods, out of sight from the road and neighbors. With chickens and goats and garden, a dog and a cat or two, deer and songbirds, the trees and a good flowing creek. Lots of God's creatures, but none of them wanting to have a conversation ... at least not about TV shows or hairstyles or politics or any of the other vapidity of modern material culture. "Pilgrims" and genuine seekers are always welcomed by a monk, even a hermit monk.

Not that there weren't some mundane distractions, with living conditions a little more rustic than this city girl is used to. Oh, but it was beautiful. The delicious stillness -- there's a different quality to the quiet of the woods. It's not the sealed-off quiet you get when you shut the house windows and doors against the world. It's full of singing birds and cicadas, the breeze in the trees, a bubbling brook ... a far-off tractor droning, a crowing rooster away down the holler, a dog barking in the distance.

I realized how liberating it is to have a very small house and minimal stuff; that manual labor (even for an INFP) is good for sanity; that God chases off "demons" (temptations, boredom, bad moods, apathy) if we but ask Him to; and that those demons always come back to try again. I read and read and read: lots of Desert Fathers; the book Seeds of Grace, by a Catholic nun about the spirituality of AA; my breviary and Bible, the beginning of Walden. Wrote lots in my journal. I sang and prayed the Office. I went hiking for hours with my field guides, learning to identify some of the different trees, butterflies, flowers.

I spent part of a couple of days with Sr. J, sharing and canning produce, and went to Mass at the local parish a few times. Sr. J also has the Blessed Sacrament available on-site, so I was able to commune without going to town. Sr. J is a gem. She is not so much a hermit, compared to the solitude I would like for myself, but nonetheless she has many years of experience that would be priceless to me if I end up settling nearby. The parish is also wonderful, a real loving community, with a pastor who is down to earth and deeply grounded in prayer. Sr. J and the pastor both promised to keep their eyes & ears open for a quiet, solitary place for me to live.

Meanwhile, I have e-mailed the diocesan representative for consecrated life, asking if there are other hermits who would be willing to be contacted by a discerner like myself. I will keep you posted.

What it means to NEED God

Last night I found myself remembering a little bit of what it was like to be me as a teenager. Adolescence is hard for everyone, that's unfortunately normal, but mine wasn't normal. I had suffered from major depression since the age of 9, and by the time I was 15 I was a real mess. I was drinking and getting high, skipping school, and in a whole lot of pain. When I was about to turn 16, I think I lost my virginity, while more or less passed out drunk. A month or two later I ran away from home. I picked someone up at a party so I'd have a place to spend the night, and I was so debased that I thought I could support myself by turning tricks on the street. I knew I was smarter than that, but I would have been psychologically incapable of holding a job. The next morning the guy I had gone home with raped me on a park bench. A few hours later the miracle happened, my stepfather tracked me down and took me home.

I got some counseling, quit drinking and drugging, and started hanging out with a different group of friends: the immigrant kids (that's when my Spanish went from classroom to fluent). Some of those kids had suffered horribly, this being the era of the Reagan wars in Central America. We didn't talk about it, but things would come out sometimes, and there was a certain gravity that held me much better than the privileged middle-class ambience of my "gifted" classes (God bless the school administrators who never booted me out of the "gifted" program -- I was intellectually gifted, though I was way too messed up to actually do the work those classes required, and being included there was a little consolation to my battered self-esteem).

That was not the last time I hit bottom. It was a reprieve, but I fell again afterwards and had more traumatic experiences before starting my long-term recovery at age 19. That's when I started going to AA and its offspring, especially Al-Anon Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA) meetings. My parents are not alcoholics, I actually have a wonderful, loving family. I don't think I am an alcoholic, either, really. But it seemed that growing up with my own mental illness, depression, had deformed my emotional and social development in very much the same way that my ACOA confrères had experienced. At any rate, none of them ever questioned my right to be there, God bless them, and the program worked for me. They taught me to pray, they taught me courage, they taught me to hope. I met God and fell in love with Him. Then I found the Catholic Church and made it my home.

It was still years before I got medical treatment for the depression, and my path has been anything but a straight line since then (like a ladder climbing to Heaven? not), but I have always known what it means to NEED God, to need Him desperately, and I have never entirely given up on Him. Sometimes I have been very Catholic and sometimes I have drifted from the Church, miffed or unreconciled to some teaching that I just couldn't adhere to at that phase of my recovery. Sometimes I have lived immersed in prayer and contemplation, and at other times I have "acted out" and strayed from His friendship, but never have I entirely renounced Him. I cannot. I NEED Him, and I know it as surely as I know I need air. I rarely think about those bad years, and more rarely still do I remember so clearly how I felt back then. But Christ reached down and pulled me out of Hell.

My experience makes me an indifferent "evangelist". I do not know what to say about God to people who have not suffered. I would not know Him if I had not needed Him desperately. Life with God is hard. I can't see Him or touch Him or hear His voice. He speaks with this still, small voice, that can't be heard over the TV and the radio and constant mundane interactions with people. Following Him requires constant recollection, faith, trust, and great skepticism toward popular cultural values. I don't know how to tell people about the peace, the bliss, the love, the grace that He gives me, when they can't follow the tortuous path He brought me by.

Then again, my experience has given me an unorthodox perspective on sin and grace and punishment. I do not believe in eternal damnation. I guess I'm a heretic ... but my belief is grounded in these experiences. When I was 18 years old, still in Hell, a high school friend died. He died drunk, and breaking the law, not in what you would call a state of grace. When I found out, I was blessed with a "parting of the veil": I "saw" (not visually) my friend, in God, with God, deeply happy, deeply peaceful, no longer crazy. He was healed of the "sins" that had characterized his earthly unhappiness and caused his bodily death. When I first started to go to Mass, a year or two later, that is what I took from the lines "Lord, I am not worthy to receive You, but only say the word and I shall be healed". Our unworthiness -- our sinfulness -- is not something God punishes us for, but something He stands ready to heal us of if we will just permit Him to. Sin carries its own punishment -- I know, I have tested all this out. I have sinned and suffered, and I have surrendered to God and known bliss, even risen above suffering. And it is only God's grace that makes it possible for us not to sin. And it is only our willingness, the surrender of our wills, that allows God's grace to enter. The only requirement for membership in AA, that great program for the healing of hardened sinners, is the desire to stop drinking. All we have to do is want to change, ask Him to cleanse and heal us, and then get out of the way while He does the job.

In great suffering is great blessing. No way would I ever change places with people who live conventional lives, with conventional little happinesses and little sadnesses, who know neither Hell nor Heaven. It seems that it takes a crucifixion to experience a resurrection ... and it is worth it! I guess that's why I have always loved to sing for funerals: grief opens a door for Consolation to enter, and once He is known who could ever throw Him out again? And that "parting of the veil" after my friend died, 23 years ago, also means that I do not fear death, I look forward to it!

I do want to share what I know with others, as they are able to receive it. That's why I love to see D at the food co-op: this man has suffered violently, and he is reaching for grace with a fierce need. I think he can see that I, too, have been down and am now up, and he is very receptive to the little words of guidance I try to offer him. I don't care that he doesn't reach for God in the Catholic Church, or in church at all. I know that God doesn't need the Church to save sinners, since He actually saved me in the 12-step meetings, before I ever entered the Church. I can share the beauty and truth that I find in Catholic doctrine and liturgy, and the tools for living my faith that I have gleaned from Church traditions and practices, but the visceral experience of having been saved, of having been snatched out of Hell, happened before ever I darkened church doors.

Thus also, this little blog. I don't know if anyone will read it; so far no one has posted any comments. It is deeply personal, but as it is and will always remain anonymous, I dare to share my story in case someone still in Hell might read it and find the courage to reach for Heaven. My sister, my brother, it is open to you. No matter how far down you have fallen, no matter what terrible, shameful things you have done, even if you do not believe in God, even if you've cursed God, but don't know where else to turn, it's OK -- just ask Him and He will touch you and heal you. He doesn't even have to forgive you, because He was never angry: you haven't hurt Him, you've only hurt yourself, and He wants to make you whole.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Vocation and Personality Type

I am an INFP. If you don't know what that is, please google MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator); I won't try to explain it here. Anyway, I'm an INFP, with a strong tertiary T but a very weak fourth S. I actually scored "0" on the S scale once (that's rare); it's a little more developed now, but still weak enough that it is starting to dawn on me that I may never be a good "homesteader". I may never be the kind of person who can grow her own food, make her own clothes, and build her own house, with her own two hands. Oh, how I want to be that person! It kills me. I believe passionately in Wendell Berry's world: I believe that it is a poisonous lack of humility and a grave sin of our modern culture, to refuse to sweat for one's meals and insist on buying them with money instead. I so want to be the person who can cobble together leftover materials and make something beautiful and useful out of them, making do with less. I want to take a sewing pattern and adapt it, effortlessly, to actually fit the contours of my body. But it's not effortless. It's painful. I finally broke down this week and paid somebody a whole lot of money to do an amount of yard work that shamed me and left me speechless. 3 guys, in 12 hours, managed to get done -- not what it would have taken me all summer to do, but what I never, ever would have gotten done. Yard work is like dishes or dusting, it is never finished. You can't just weed out one bed and then be free to focus on another one. The stuff grows back! I don't keep up with the dishes and dusting, either, and it makes me miserable -- not living in a messy house, but seeing myself failing to be the kind of person I wish I were. I am endlessly mentally creative, but not the least bit physically creative.

I knew all this, but I have been trying to shove my round self into that square hole until I am black and blue around the edges. So what do I do now? I adjust my expectations and my goals, I guess. There are a few places this epiphany is sending my mind. One is that I have to work on my interdependence skills. I am really bad at needing people, and asking for help does not come naturally. For one thing, you will remember I am an INFP, not an ENFP. But people are, surprisingly, ready and willing to help. T has been my teacher here: he's an introvert, too, but he has a wonderfully open and generous heart. He says he has hundreds of friends, all of them really friends. People are not always available when I want something done, nor will they always work exactly to my specifications. But aha, there is another opportunity to exercise evangelical poverty: I don't have to get everything I want, exactly when and how I want it, to be happy. Instead of convenience and control, I get friends. What a concept. The flip side is, of course, being willing to be inconvenienced myself sometimes, stepping out of my introversion when someone else wants help. Living in this town -- a small municipality within a large urban metropolis -- has also taught me about community. It is a genuine community, unified in diversity.

This self-insight also, of course, has some implications for my future, my vocational path. Not having the aptitude to be physically self-sufficient doesn't mean I can't be a good and happy hermit. A hermit is a member of her community, albeit not a very visible or vocal one. Julian of Norwich,e.g., was entirely dependent on her community for her sustenance. In exchange, the hermit-monks provided spiritual direction and inspiration that grow out of their more focused contemplative and prayerful lifestyle. I can do that! People tell me I write very well, probably well enough to generate some income. To begin with I should probably change this blog as A suggested; keep this jotting journal as a sort of back page, a notepad, but use the public front page for more thought-out, polished essays. I loved leading the Spanish RCIA program at my former parish, guiding people through their spiritual development into full-fledged Church members. People kept coming back, so I guess I wasn't too incompetent at it. Even Fr. H, my spiritual director, last week wondered what I am getting from our meetings, since it often feels as if our roles are reversed. (It often feels that way to me, too, but I don't think that's a bad thing!) And I have been very much enjoying my interaction with D at the co-op, and from the focused way he makes eye contact just when I throw some piece of guidance at him, I think he is listening and taking it in. (sometimes that is 2nd-hand guidance: yesterday it was a suggestion to read about the AA 8th & 9th steps in order to better support his neighbor, who seems to be teetering on the threshold of willingness to make much-needed amends to his kids). I have self-knowledge, personal relationship with God, empathy and compassion, and an ability to express myself in words; spiritual direction is something I can do, do well and enjoy doing.

Then again, I can still keep my kitchen garden, and just accept that it may never be as lush and tidy and productive as the one in my imagination. And if I have too many cucumbers, and I don't get around to pickling them, I can give them to the poor (why haven't I done that yet this year, with all these city soup kitchens around??). If I give my excess to the hungry instead of letting it rot, then surely my Father in heaven will not let me go hungry, either. I can still keep my chickens and goats, too. Animals are harder to neglect, I think they are good for me. Maybe I shouldn't stress my weak "S" function too much, but I will still benefit from developing it, gently and self-compassionately, and animals help with that.

Today I leave for a week in West Virginia, visiting a consecrated hermit of some 30-odd years. I will be taking my paper journal with me, and I hope to do a lot of discernment..... I'm sure I'll have plenty to blog about when I get back. Pray for me!

Regina Terrae