The Big Ten

10 Mar

For Lent this year I have been fasting from Facebook. The first week was rough. Real rough. To compare myself to an addict in rehab sucking nervously on a tootsie pop would have been accurate the first few days. I felt deeply in my gut like something was MISSING. Every morning when I woke up and didn’t wake up to George’s coffee memes. Every time I accomplished a task at work, and then couldn’t reward myself with a peek at Mary’s baby animal pictures. Every time I wondered how so-and-so was doing and didn’t check their profile page. Every time I wanted to post something encouraging, or feel the warmth of my virtual community lifting me up.

When I was curious about how the notorious “DT” was going to forecast the snow storm du jour and relied instead on my Weather Channel app or the local TV station website, I couldn’t trust how much bread and milk to buy. (First world problems?)
So I increased my Candy Crush and was kinda cranky with the kids for about a week. Or three. (Remember, we’ve had a LOT of snow days. Without Facebook. Cut me some slack.) I also reacquainted myself with Pinterest. Glorious Pinterest. 
The other day one of my friends referred to it as “food porn.” 
“Oh, you look at it for the recipes?” I asked her, silently judging myself for not doing something more productive with my online habits, like cooking for my cranky Facebook-free family. “I guess for me it’s ‘house porn.'” I said. We both laughed. Sort of.
I love searching the Home Decor category. It reminds me of my childhood when my favorite cousin and I would pour over the Sears and Pennys catalogs and make lists of every curtain, rug, towel, and placemat we wanted to purchase for the homes we were designing on graph paper. We’d even write down the prices so we’d know what kind of budget we’d need, all the while listening to Neil Diamond, another of the shared guilty pleasures we couldn’t tell to anyone outside the family, lest the deepest depths of our nerdiness be discovered.
Apparently this practice is now mainstream (minus the Neil Diamond). A lot of you reading this have repinned my pins. Consider yourselves outed, nerds.
I thought I had gotten over the hump. I’m still feeling the Facebook sacrifice but it is no longer an obsession; it’s an accomplishment of which I can be proud. I’m productive, less edgy, focusing more on personal relationships than virtual ones, and relearning how to connect with all of you in a way that doesn’t involve social media.
Patting myself on the back, I started to read this past weekend’s scripture selections with the intent of actually writing a blog post. I couldn’t make it through the first reading. It stopped me up short. It’s the Ten Commandments. When I got to the ninth one, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, I kinda broke the second one. 
Yeah, I took the Lord’s name in vain.
Isn’t that what Pinterest is? Coveting? Maybe not for you. Maybe for you it’s “food porn,” which makes it ok. But for me, it’s about seeing all the stuff I wish I could do or have in my house, and creating pin boards dedicated to my categorized coveting. More that 1,500 and counting.
(Not Ryan Gosling. Someone else can covet him and his “hey, girl.” When I start pinning that silly goose, you’ll know I’ve hit bottom. Pour me the Candy Crush Soda, please.)
~~~
We tend to think of the Ten Commandments as a list of dos and don’ts from God, or a moral code by which to live. When I read the chapters following Sunday’s first reading selection from Exodus, I learned there were a lot more than just ten “commandments;” there are whole chapters in Exodus dedicated to all the rules set forth by God to govern the conduct of His chosen people. 
For example, that whole “eye for eye” thing was instituted to prevent revenge, or taking anything more than was taken from you. It’s fascinating to read all the laws, as long as I keep it in historical and spiritual context; these laws were meant to set the Jewish people apart from their pagan neighbors so they would be a testament to the one true God. The Old Testament Jewish law was never intended, for example, to be used by modern day fundamentalists to justify racism or slavery. As a Christian it is important for me to remember the fullness of the law was expressed in the life of Christ, who said that loving God and loving neighbor were the summation of the whole law and the prophets.
Christ was also the fullest expression of God’s covenant with His people. The Ten Commandments could just as easily have been titled “the ten signs of covenant,” but I believe we humans are much more comfortable with a God of rules than a God of promises. Our egos find it much easier to rebel against and reject God if we think He’s always telling us what to do. After all that’s what Ego does – Edges God Out.
In the chapter preceding the Ten Commandments, God (through Moses) gave the people instructions for preparing themselves to hear God speak to them and make His covenant with them. On the third day, God would descend Mt. Sinai and they would hear His voice. This weekend’s selection is the spoken word of God to His people. They literally heard His voice. Later in Exodus, when the Hebrews were overwhelmed with their inability to follow the rules or presumably remember them, they asked Moses for written Commandments, and God wrote them on stone tablets not once, but twice. Those tablets were placed in the Ark of the Covenant along with the staff of Aaron and a pot of manna, and around this ark the Temple of Jerusalem was ultimately built (and then “cleansed” by Jesus in this weekend’s gospel).
But the first giving of the law was done orally, on the “third day.” It was a promise from God to His people, if they would accept that He alone was God, creator of the universe, and if they would live in the ways He instructed instead of the ways of the world, they would be a sign to the rest of that universe by their actions, and they would be blessed.
Replace the word “shalt ” with “will.” The passage takes on a very different tone:
You will not have other gods besides me or carve idols for yourselves or bow down before them.

You will not take the name of the LORD, your God, in vain. 

You will rest on the seventh day, just as your Creator did.

You will honor your mother and father.

You will not kill. 

You will not commit adultery. 

You will not steal. 

You will not lie about your neighbor. 

You will not covet your neighbor’s house.

You will not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male or female slave, nor his ox or ass, nor anything else that belongs to him.

Change the “will nots” to “will no longer” and it gets even better.

When we follow the fullness of God’s law (put God first and love your neighbor as yourself), God will transform us from a group of coveting, gossiping, lying, stealing, lustful, life-destroying, disrespectful, prideful, cursing, idolatrous heathens into a people who are known as God’s people by our love. 

As a sinner who has broken some of the commandments, sometimes repeatedly, the promise that I could be delivered from my compulsions and especially the consequences that usually follow is a wonderful message of hope. This is the covenant. We will not need the distraction of Pinterest or Facebook because we will be looking for the face of Jesus in everyone we see. We will no longer covet anything, because when we put God first, we will trust He has given us everything we need, and we will be content with that.

~~~

The Hebrew people were never content with that for very long, and God in His great compassion knew it. He planned for it in the covenant. Rather than demand perfection from His people, God set forth a process by which they could cleanse themselves from their sin so no one would be prevented from worshipping the Holy of Holies – He set forth rules for animal sacrifice, substitutiary atonement. In Moses’ day, the Ark of the Covenant was housed in a tent, but by the time of Jesus, the Temple in Jerusalem was where the symbol of God’s covenant, and presumably where God Himself, dwelt. The covenant was written so that sinners could still approach their God. (The covenant also wrote a pretty specific rule about lending money to fellow Hebrews and not charging interest.)

When Jesus “cleansed” the temple in this weekend’s Gospel, it was in part because the religious elites were creating obstacles to the atonement process. The reason there were livestock in the temple courtyard was because they were to be the blood sacrifices people would buy to kill and  atone for their sins. But the Jewish temple couldn’t accept the Roman currency that everyone used; Jewish people had to exchange their Roman coins for Jewish ones which they could then use to purchase the ox or lamb or doves or whatever other offering they could afford. 

Obviously the ox was more expensive than the doves, so the wealthy were able to “atone” for more sins than, say, a poor widow who could afford to give only two coins in offering. And not only had the atonement process become unjust, but the money changers were very likely exchanging Jewish coins at an unfair rate. No wonder Jesus called them a brood of vipers and a den of thieves. 

“Give us a sign,” the temple elites demanded after Jesus raged against the layers of injustice condoned and encouraged by the Levites and priests. They would have known the Exodus story intimately, yet they completely missed Jesus’ reference when he told them to destroy the temple (of his body) and he would raise it up on the third day. He used the exact same words his Father had used at Mt. Sinai.

Or, maybe they understood exactly what Jesus was saying, which is why they had him killed.

Jesus offered himself as the final blood sacrifice, once and for all, so that sins could be forgiven. God Himself would be the substitutiary atonement, and there would be no need for any more livestock or temple money exchanges. No one would ever be prevented from worshipping God because they were too poor to be anything but ritually impure. I believe Jesus’ angry expulsion of the money changers foreshadowed how his death and resurrection would expel all the forces that attempt to keep us from worshipping God.

There are money changers our heads. They try to convince us our mistakes are too big to atone for. They tell us there’s no use changing course since we’re already sinners and not likely to have much success changing that Why bother? Why keep setting ourselves up for another moral failure tomorrow by getting “right” with God today?

I accidentally ate bacon bits on my salad on Friday; I may as well order steak for dinner since I’ve already eaten meat once. That’s the logic of my money changers. I’m already a sinner, so I may as well sin big, they say. They have no concern about the guilt I will heap upon myself. Maybe not about eating meat, but definitely about the times I break one of the “big ten.”
God wants to throw the money changers out of our heads. He wants to silence the rigid elites in our hearts, too. Our hearts are His temple, and Christ died to cleanse them. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” he says, and the mercy starts with ourselves. There is no longer anything in the way of my turning to God whenever I need Him; nothing except my Edging God Out.

~~~

Coveting must be a pretty serious sin. It’s the subject of not one, but two commandments. That fact is worth contemplation.

What do I covet, and why? Ultimately the answer for me is comfort. I want to be comfortable and secure, and I mistakenly believe a beautifully decorated, perfectly organized home will do that. I believe the same thing of certain clothing, or even friendships and relationships. Coveting – the desire for “more” or “better,” and especially comparing myself to others and measuring myself against near-impossible perfection is not a very spiritually healthy way of life. Like the Israelites eating manna in the desert, I have everything I need, if not everything I want. The secret to happiness is contentment.

In a great twist of irony, I saw a great little article pinned on Pinterest – 10 Ways To Be Happier In Your Own Home: http://headedsomewhere.com/2012/10/12/10-things/ 
Many of the tricks, like making my bed daily, keeping a gratitude journal, and displaying sentimental items, are things I do regularly to keep myself from coveting. The final item on the list is connecting with something greater than yourself. I certainly didn’t expect that from a “home decor” blog. It’s a return to the first Commandment – remember who is God, or at the very least, who is not God. It’s a good reminder whenever I struggle with one of the “big ten.”

Fasting and Prayer

18 Feb

When I was a teenager, my family befriended a newly ordained priest who had been assigned to our parish. He wasn’t even 30 years old yet, and having him to our house for dinner or sharing coffee and donuts after mass was a bit like having an older brother. He was instrumental in teaching my mom how to use a computer, and he taught my brother and I all sorts of funny versions of the mass parts set to the theme songs of movies and TV shows. He spoke several languages and kindled my brother’s love of language and desire to travel. And being a bit of a philosopher, he fanned the flames of my theologically curious mind and played Socrates to all my questioning. He really was the best “baby priest.”

Today he’s a grown-up priest, a servant to both the poor and the powerful; those who know him know this. Yet he still finds time to break open the scriptures in a daily blog post for all of us. His recent post about preparing for Lent was simple and inspiring.

http://frwayneball.blogspot.com/2015/02/preparing-for-lent.html?m=1

So often we focus just on fasting. “What are you giving up?” I find “giving up” anything is very difficult unless I’m replacing it with something else. For example, this lent I am giving up Facebook. (Yes, I realize this post is on FB. I can post it remotely. But if you want me to see your comment, do it directly on my website.) I suspect this will be quite difficult, because FB is such an entrenched habit. I get to be social without having to leave my home, or even my bed. I get to feel “important” when people give my comments attention or “like” my selfies. I get to feel “intelligent” when I engage in political or religious discussions. Giving this up will not be easy. I’ve been awake only two hours and already I’m feeling “hungry” for my daily, no, hourly ego stroke.

Jesus said some demons can only be expelled by fasting and prayer. Prayer is what I will use to replace the hunger left by fasting.

I will be praying about several things. First, I will pray for myself. I know this probably sounds weird or even selfish, but it is what the Holy Spirit is asking of me. I pray that I can be a better mother. I pray that my heart will remain open and soft. I pray that God will heal the parts that are broken.

I will also be praying for someone I resent. Resent is too mild a word, really. All the more reason to practice prayer. The resentment is poisonous. Experience has taught me praying for those I resent is a discipline that leads to true conversion. Mine. Bless them, change me.

I’m praying for someone who is sick and doesn’t realize it. I desperately wish I could help, but I know I am powerless, so praying is the only thing I can do. My mother’s prayer in times when she feels powerless over the lives of those she loves is for “God’s guidance and direction.” So I’ll be praying for this person to receive guidance and direction.

I’m praying for two family members who very unexpectedly lost their husbands in the last year. I know several people whose spouses have died, and my heart goes out to all of them, but these two in particular are weighing on my mind. May God comfort their loneliness. I ask you to pray for them with me.

Finally, I will be praying for my children. Each of them is so precious, and each has challenges. All three are struggling in their own way with “growing up,” and as their mother I want nothing more than to keep them little forever, or at least until high school starts. Acceptance is difficult for all of us. I pray that they will be able to let go of babyhood gradually and gracefully as they take ever bigger steps into responsibility and experience the fullness of life. Yesterday’s snow day was a great start. For the first time all three played unsupervised on the snow hill with the other neighborhood kids, and without their mom. I was so proud of them for not needing me to facilitate fun.

Speaking of children, I hear them downstairs making their own breakfast. I’m not ready for that yet. Baby steps. Pray for me this Lent!

On Soulmates, Princes, and Mermaids (the Disney rant)

13 Feb

One day I’m going to write a book about how the Disney empire has deconstructed classic European fairy tales, gutted them of their dark and beautiful lessons, and supplanted them with the most progressively noxious, neo-romantic tripe ever conceived.

Consider this: after nearly 80 years since Disney’s classic animated film Snow White debuted in 1937, we have 73% of Americans believing in a soul mate, according to a 2011 Marist public opinion poll. 80% of those under the age of 30 and 78% of those 30 to 44 believe in the idea of soul mates, compared with 72% of residents 45 to 59 years old and 65% of those 60 and older. 74% of men and 71% of women believe in finding the perfect partner. (You can read the source article at http://maristpoll.marist.edu/210-its-destiny-most-americans-believe-in-soul-mates/.)

I grew up wishing I had Sleeping Beauty’s hair. I prayed “God bless Snow White and the Handsome Prince” every night at bedtime, and I may or may not have made my dad and the boy next door play the part of the handsome price when I was three. I will neither confirm nor deny “Some Day My Prince Will Come” played at my wedding reception (but if it did play, everyone had the decency not to turn it into a “wedding night” joke).

Of course I believed in soulmates.

When I was in my early twenties, I dated a guy who was quite a bit older than me. He was a very decent man, rather philosophical and religious like me, and having had more time in the world than I did, he vigorously challenged my belief in soul mates. He said a soul mate is not someone you search for and find, but something you become to each other, together, over time.

He said a lot of things like that, most of which I completely disregarded because in my early twenties I still believed I knew everything. Long story short, we weren’t soul mates – not the kind you find, nor the kind you become. In spite of our differing romantic philosophies, I was naive enough to believe he was “the one” because of how I felt when I was with him. As far as “23-year-old Christy” was concerned, we were made for each other, and the fact that he couldn’t see it was a painful disappointment.

What freedom I found when I finally released my belief in soulmates and embraced his philosophy that love is a choice supported by action. It meant he wasn’t “the one.” Not only was that okay with me, it was a true relief. It meant I got to have some say in who “the one” is, and isn’t, based on our actions rather than our feelings. I got to choose. That’s not what Disney taught me.

My intention is not to bash all things Disney or romantic. I love Disney. I have wonderful memories of my childhood princess fantasies (even if they were like crack to a baby love-junkie). I’m also thrilled that Disney has produced some modern animated stories with strong female princess characters and beautifully crafted music that engages my daughters’ imaginations. If I have any complaint, it’s to protest the rampant merchandising that has all but taken over toy stores.

I also love romance; I believe otherwise healthy intimate relationships are incomplete without it. Whole industries are dedicated to keeping the spark alive, whether it’s a pseudo-religious marriage strengthening program like Marriage Builders, books like the famed “Men Are From Mars” franchise and “Love Languages” series, or a personal boudoir photography session or trip to the local adult toy store.

One of the miscalculations I made going into marriage (after I tossed the baby out with the bath water and gave up romance along with soulmates) was not fully appreciating both the importance and potential of romantic connection, or the lack of it. I boycotted my first Valentine’s Day as a married woman because I was so let down by our first few months of sharing a home together. Not one of my better choices, I admit. I was still in my ego-driven twenties. That girl was a mess.

I got my first valentine gift as a divorced woman last year from my fella (chocolate infused tea and frog tea strainer, perfecto!), and the emotional high still pays dividends. Every time I make that tea, I get warm all over. That’s partly because gift-giving is one of my primary love languages. But it’s also because I stopped wanting a man to be my perfect fantasy of a soul mate and instead started accepting men, and myself, for who and what we are, and what we aren’t. This is not the kind of storytelling formula you’ll see in a Disney film (although I think Brave and Frozen take steps in the right direction).

IMG_0417

I have several mommy friends on opposing ends of the liberal/conservative pendulum who go to great lengths in protecting their daughters from having a princess complex. Not that I blame them. Princesses are weak, selfish, immature, love-crazed sexual objects, right?

Actually, the Disney princess is rarely any of those things, with the exception of being the object of her prince’s desire. Disney does, however, serve up some fairly predictable character types: attractive female protagonists who are socially rejected, isolated, rebellious, or don’t fit in (Aurora, Cinderella, Ariel, Jasmine, Belle, Mulan, Rapunzel, Tiana, Merida, Elsa & Anna) and male “prince” characters who are either loveable rogues (Aladdin, the Beast, Flynn Rider, Prince Naveen) or idealized to the point of stereotype (Prince Phillip, Prince Charming, Prince Eric, Captain Li Shang, Gaston, and Hans). Kristoff is the only “average guy” Disney male protagonist I’ve seen. Still, his theme song is all about being a “fixer upper.” The problem isn’t so much the message about princesses, but the messages about princes and true love. At best, the modern Disney princess films send mixed messages about accepting men for who they are yet “improving” them with just a little love.

This set-up apparently sells, probably because it reflects our American culture. Society pays lip service to admiring the strong female, as long as she’s easy on the eyes and is just enough of a victim that she needs saving or is somehow incomplete without a prince by her side. We like the underdog or victimized female because at some point in our lives most women have felt rejected, isolated, and that we didn’t fit in, no matter how well we clean up after emerging from the awkward tween years. And many of us have been emotionally if not physically abused. The Disney princess is relatable.

Our society also glorifies the handsome ramblers who are “diamonds in the rough” and just need the love of a “good woman” to polish them up. Or, on the flip side of that coin, we expect our princes to live up to impossibly high standards. I’m surprised more men aren’t offended by the portrayal of their gender in Disney films. They should be.

The Disney plots follow a formula, too. Princess and Prince fall in love; the rogue or royal proves himself worthy by doing battle against a foe who is usually the personification of anything that would separate the two lovers; there is some sort of deception on the part of one of the lovers which must be brought to light and forgiven; but after a successful battle with the forces of evil, they live happily ever after with singing birds and magical rainbows.

We who grow up with that storyline repeated season after season carry this expectation into the lifelong commitments we make with the opposite sex (or maybe the same sex; I don’t know how it works for gay and lesbian folks). Women get married believing their men will change, and men get married believing their women won’t change. It’s a modern joke too true to be funny. We equate marriage with unconditional love, while at the same time equating love with feelings that are in fact capricious and conditional, dependent on the actions of our beloved, who is human. And if he’s a “diamond in the rough” variety, in real life he’s likely to be a heartbreaker. Literally.

If you hunt down the source materials for the most of the Disney princess fairy tales, you’ll find stories that bear little resemblance to their animated versions. Sleeping Beauty, for example, was not wakened by true love’s first kiss; she was raped in her sleep, gave birth to twins as a result of that union, and awakened when they sucked a poison flax seed out of her finger. Rapunzel was all but abandoned by her biological mother to the witch, who in turn abandoned the young woman in the wilderness when she naively became pregnant while locked in the tower. Snow White wasn’t awakened by love’s first kiss, either; the prince tripped while he and the dwarves were carrying her glass coffin, and the piece of poison apple dislodged from her throat. And Cinderella’s father may well have been an accomplice in his daughter’s abuse, along with his wife and horrid stepdaughters.

Protesters were voraciously vocal when Disney reinterpreted the Pocahontas story and turned it into a romance. Where is the defense of the brothers Grimm?

Beauty and the Beast is subtlety and exceptionally different from its Disney counterpart. The Disney version plays right into the modern American myth that the love of a good and beautiful woman can transform an ugly and difficult man into the prince hiding within. In the real story, the beast is indeed physically ugly, but he is unfailingly kind, and a bit dull, and it is Belle who changes from someone who judges those closest to her based on superficial appearances to a discerning soul who learns the hard way to see things as they are and to appreciate loyalty and affection over her unrealistic expectations. The story is the epitome of what it means to become soul mates over time.

My favorite, though, is The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson. Disney’s re-entry into full length animated moviemaking was a charming and beautifully crafted romantic tale with a happy ending. The real story is a layer-after-layer, heart-rending tragedy about unrequited love. And although the ending offers redemption, it comes at great personal sacrifice. The Little Mermaid is the antidote to every Disney storyline. Even though it is fantasy, it gets closer to the truth of what often happens when mismatched people become fixated on an illusion of what they think they want.

Like the animated Ariel, the little mermaid does save her prince in the storm, and does trade her beautiful voice for legs. What the Disney version leaves out is that when she uses those legs, it is like walking on knives. The prince adores his “little foundling” as he calls her, but he loves her as a sister because his heart is in love with the woman he mistakenly believes to have saved him – a temple girl who he never expects to see again. Without a voice, she cannot tell him the truth. The little mermaid is willing to endure excruciating pain, not to mention exile from her family under the sea, and settles for a platonic relationship with the prince until he discovers that his “temple girl” is actually the princess to which his parents have betrothed him. He marries with great joy while the little mermaid awaits certain death when her prince marries, because she did not win true love’s kiss. Her sisters in their great compassion trade their beautiful hair for a knife that the little mermaid can use to kill the prince on his wedding night and thus rejoin her family under the sea. She can’t do it. She would rather sacrifice her own life for his happiness than kill him to save her life. But at dawn, she discovers she has not died, but has become like an angel, a “daughter of air” who can earn a soul and immortality because of her act of selfless love.

Romantic love was only what the little mermaid thought she wanted. What she truly wanted was to have a soul. And mermaids don’t have souls. They can only get a soul by winning the love of a human. Like so many of us, she believed romantic love would be the means to satisfying her deepest longing, and like many of us, she was completely wrong. She abandoned her greatest talent and gave up her very identity, just to win a hopelessly unsuitable man’s affection. He wasn’t bad, just dense. Yet her choices and her sacrifice ultimately won her heart’s true desire – a path to immortality. I doubt Disney could pull that one off, and I don’t fault them for not even trying.

I can’t wait to share the real Little Mermaid with my own “daughters of air.” And the other tales as well. They may not be as palatable as their Disney counterparts, but the original fairytales give us soul-guiding lessons about love and life that we need now more then ever.

If pain is a parable

1 Feb

If a field is a kingdom
If a heart is a chest
If a kiss is a key
If a tear is a lubricant
If choice is a hinge
If anger is a treasure
If feelings are children
If parenting is unconditional
If growth means release

then surrender
love
labor
value
open
leak
join
contain
heaven

Ready For Reconciliation

20 Jan

I should read the daily scripture readings more often. Today’s first lines from Paul’s letter to the Hebrews was just what I needed to hear:

“God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love you have demonstrated for his name by having served and continuing to serve the holy ones.”

Like most people who believe in a “traditional” God, I worry about God judging me. I think it goes hand in hand with organized religion, for better or worse. I was in the shower this morning thinking about my need to go to confession, and about what our deacon said at Mass this weekend – we don’t listen to God because we are afraid He will tell us to do something uncomfortable. Ya got that right!

My daughter is currently going through preparation for her first sacrament of reconciliation, and the director of the program handed out an anonymous survey to parents at the first class, assessing our attitudes about the sacrament. One of the questions was a multiple choice about why we don’t go. We could choose more than one. I don’t remember all the choices, because my reason for not going wasn’t on there.

I don’t believe it’s unnecessary, nor do I doubt my own personal need for the sacrament. And it’s certainly not because I haven’t sinned or done something the church tells me is wrong.

I don’t go because I’m not really sorry.

I DO feel guilty that I’m not sorry, though.

Maybe I should go and confess that. I suppose it’s a start.

Part of my spiritual practice includes being willing to be willing. This is particularly helpful when I am just not quite ready to let go of an outcome or a behavior or a relationship I know deep in my heart is not serving God. I’m rarely willing to let go immediately. I joke and say there’s not a relationship I’ve had that doesn’t have claw marks in it from when God wrenched it from my tiny, clenched fists of rage. I may not be willing, but I can ask God to help me be willing to be willing to let go.

Help me to be willing to seek You in the sacrament of reconciliation.

I have a tool borrowed from the 12-step tradition that helps me with this. It’s called an inventory. There’s no one right way to do it. The 4th step talks about a “fearless and searching moral inventory” while the 10th step talks about a continuous inventory.

There is a wrong way to do it. It doesn’t say “list only your failings.” That is what most of us do when we examine our conscience, isn’t it? Today’s first reading encourages me to see myself the way God sees me – with justice. He doesn’t overlook the love just because I have sometimes failed to love. He doesn’t overlook my service to others just because there are times I’ve neglected to serve.

Truth be told, I’m afraid to look at why I’m not sorry for some of my willful disobedience. I just don’t want to go there. I don’t want to go there alone, and I don’t want to go there with God.

What I’ve learned is that God will take me there whether or not I want to go. It’s up to me whether I open my eyes or keep them shut. What am I missing if I keep them shut? I miss seeing my virtues when I shut my eyes to my vices, and seeing my virtues is what fills my heart with healthy esteem for myself. Without taking that fearless searching inventory of myself with a just God who sees it all, I’m dooming myself to a life of low self-esteem and a bottomless black hole in my soul, and an ever-widening gap between myself and the God I profess to love and serve.

Well, if that’s not motivation, I don’t know what else is.

The Gospel reading today also touches on this idea of being judged – not by God, but by our peers, or people in authority. The Pharisees criticized Jesus and his disciples because they were picking heads of wheat in the field they were walking through on -GASP – the Sabbath. Was it breaking the church rule? Technically, yes. Was it a sin? Well, Jesus doesn’t actually answer that question. He merely tells a story about old King David and states, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.” We can extrapolate and say the same of any of the commandments, can’t we? After all, God created humanity in Genesis, and it’s not until the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy that we get Ten Commandments and all the other Hebrew laws.

I’m not saying that we start calling them “the ten suggestions.” I’m not saying that the church doesn’t have the authority to say what is right or wrong. That would be justifying harmful behaviors that those commandments address directly. What I am saying is that sharing my struggles with Jesus may yield some surprising answers. But I won’t get those answers unless I invite Him into my fearful heart.

Weekly One Thing

4 Jan

Some of you may recall that when I first started my blog, I kept a list of the “one thing” I felt God was trying to tell me at each Sunday mass. Sadly, I didn’t keep the list very well past 2012, and I didn’t add to it at all during 2014. While I’d like to think this was not indicative of my spiritual condition or willingness to listen to God, I have to admit my other choices were not ideal in 2014. We all have a rebellious period, though. Most of us experience it when we are in our teens; I decided to go through it in my late 30s. Fortunately, I’ve chosen to close that chapter.

So once again I will be listening for my “one thing” whenever I go to church. And for the sake of being accountable, and also to keep a record for myself and others, I’m going to start adding to that page of my blog again. If you’re on the same reading schedule as Catholics, I’d love for you to do it with me and compare what you heard. That whole “where two or three are gathered” thing . . .

Here’s the link:

http://holeyheart.com/weekly-one-thing/

A quick side note . . . just because I completely stopped doing it for a year doesn’t mean the exercise wasn’t useful. Apparently, my friend Laura was inspired by the “one thing” exercise and started doing it herself. This summer, she became the middle school youth minister at my church. And one afternoon when I was volunteering at their faith formation class, she encouraged the kids (including my son) to go to church listening for their one thing, and even gave them all prayer journals to take to church with them! I felt as though my own words had come back to me full circle. Thank you, Laura.

Living My Intentions, Part 2

2 Jan

I love the classical image of Janus, the ancient Roman god of transitions. Two faces, one looking forward to the future, the other looking back at the past.

My friends who are recovering alcoholics have been known to quote from the AA Promises: “We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.” That is one face of Janus. Regret and guilt can be driving forces in our lives without us ever even realizing it. I remember how free I felt when I finally understood at “heart level” I’m powerless over the past and nothing I do today can undo choices I made two minutes, two days, or two years ago.

Even in recent years as I’ve learned to cut myself a little slack and have the grace to let myself off the hook, I still find lingering feelings of wishing I could change the past or punishing myself (or others) for mistakes I think were made. The former is an illusion and the latter is a waste. The past was either a blessing or a lesson, so the best I can do today is be grateful for it, learn from it, admit that I was wrong, or forgive.

One of my goals for 2015 is to do a more thorough job of looking back. It’s great to take annual stock on New Year’s Eve, like I did yesterday, but how much more effective would I be if I checked myself daily? An annual review may reveal the big picture, but daily reviews can uncover the patterns that unconsciously permeate my everyday life. So I’ve made a 30-day commitment this January: take inventory of my behaviors and attitudes before I go to bed each night. I can’t wait to see what I learn about myself, and how it changes the way I approach the other face of Janus, the one looking toward the future.

As I’ve written before, I prefer setting “goals” and “intentions” rather than making “resolutions.” Usually I don’t choose the intention; if I quiet my mind and observe myself through the last month of the year, the next year’s intention reveals itself. I usually know in my heart what I need to work on, but making a resolution about it is setting myself up for failure. An intention, on the other hand, becomes a guiding theme weaving its way through all areas of my life.

My intention for 2015 is “simplify.”

If 2015 is anything like 2014, I will be offered many opportunities to do the exact opposite of my intention. And if 2015 is to be a truly “new” year, maybe I’ll resist the temptation to complicate and clutter.

Along with an intention, I like to set a few specific, measurable, and attainable goals, and one “BHAG” (that’s a Big Hairy Audacious Goal). This year’s small goals are:
1. Nurture my creative side;
2. Set up a will;
3. Meet with my financial advisor;
4. Finish the back porch;
5. Reduce my sugar consumption;
6. Pursue an additional career path/income source (oops, did I say “simplify?”); and
7. Take a vacation for my 40th birthday in September.

My BHAG is to craft a story that has been germinating for nearly a year and a half (this is the “big hairy” part) and get it into the hands of the man who inspired it (this is the “audacious” part only God can facilitate).

All this talk of looking at the past and planning for the future is a gentle reminder that I have only the present moment, whether it’s January 1, December 31, or any day in between. What can I do today to meet my goals and live my intentions? What lessons did the past 24 hours hold for me? Life doesn’t exist in the past or future, but only in the now.

And right now, I can copy, paste, publish, and share. Thanks for your encouragement through the past few years of Holey Heart. Happy birthday to my blog, and Happy New Year to you!

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