Sunday, March 11, 2012

Pulling Some Strands Together

I was talking with my grandma on the phone the other day and almost used the word "saccharine". I haven't been able to unconsciously bring fancy vocabulary words into everyday conversation in a while. This doesn't mean I ever stopped sounding stilted or pretentious; I'm pretty sure that'll be a thorn in my side for a long while. I joked for a while after coming back that I took the GRE at a great time, because I got a decent score and then traded all that command of the English language in for a greater Spanish share. So it was a shock and disconcerting to catch myself using an uncommon "fancy" word. I guess I had a mini-identity crisis. I mean, really mini. I was distressed and uneasy for about 2 hours, and it was comfortably distant from my mind.

I bring it up because while "using big words" was something more characteristic of me pre-Peru, it's not one of the things that indicates that I'm not being loyal to living out my experience in Peru. Duh, perhaps. One of the things that happened in Peru was a realization that I was not a good person because I used big words or was good at math or reflections or because I graduated with honors. My inherent dignity as a human person does not have its dignity based on my accomplishments. Thank goodness, too. That doesn't mean that I should avoid or shirk whatever share of intelligence I've been given, but it certainly does put it in the correct framework and gives me a less myopic vision of myself and the world.

Speaking of frameworks, I was perusing some old things I've written and committed to the vast waste of the blogosphere. I was filled with such vocational angst! I wouldn't say that I've figured out what I'm going to do with my life, but the question consumed me so (and I was so impatient!) a couple of years ago. I was so focused on it. It was perpetually something on my "To Do" List, like if I put in a certain number of prayer hours, I would earn my Life Vocation Badge. I doubt I would say that's what I was doing at the time. I was afraid of being called to the priesthood, couldn't understand meaningful differences between them that didn't sound like generic sales pitches or trite theological platitude. Maybe I'm finally taking theology classes that can address these things in-depth like the School of Campus Ministry Theology never could (not to knock CM, because it taught me some very valuable things!). I think it has to do with me, though. I think that realizing that I can't pigeonhole God, that the world is oh-so-much bigger than my concerns and I are, and the nonverbal realization that I have a vocation to be before any other life vocation comes into the picture, gives me the freedom to actually discern.

This brings me to the final thought. Lent. We're in it! The third week is already here. I think about Lent in conjunction with these other things because of the end, the purpose of it. It's a time of solemn preparation anticipating the entrance into the crux of the historical event at the heart of the Christian faith. Yes, event. In Catholic Tradition, the Liturgy of the Triduum is one continuous celebration from Holy thursday to Easter Sunday. It's all the Paschal Mystery. But that's not what I'm looking at here.

Giving stuff up or doing extra stuff for Lent may seem like pointless adventures in asceticism, or a way of showing that Jesus came down and suffered and died because we sucked at life and we recognize in a self-kicking way, "Shoot, I suck at life!"

"Ascesis" means "training." Rather than simply impose a Lenten fast or practice for the heck of it, the important question to ask is, "Training for what?" In my experience, hopefully hinted at in the previous strands of thought, the traditional trifecta of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving point the way toward that training. Prayer seems pretty straightforward: right relationship with God. That's a heck of a statement, though. Fasting might be trickier, even Pelagian ("I earn grace points so I can buy a Salvation crown!") if considered incorrectly. When I have fasted, I truly have had those moments of craving. I once made the mistake of going on a detox (non Lenten) and two days in was having vivid and enticing daydreams about broccoli salad. At the same time, though, I felt a strange focus. That's about the best I can do: I was afforded a clarity of mind and spirit, more able to appreciate that we don't live on bread alone, or broccoli, for that matter. Fasting pulled me into an appreciation of what I was made for more than food or workouts or getting buff, namely, God and human relationships. I gain a window into the lives of those who don't always get food whenever they want. I become more aware of the framework in which I live.
I turn back to prayer, able to talk to God with a little more to say, willing and disposed to what God has to say. I also turn toward others, the tiniest bit more aware that people outside of my immediate experience suffer, and also aware that we're meant to be in communion with each other and God. Thus I give what I can monetarily to help alleviate the injustices others suffer, but also am aware that my two most jealously guarded possessions are my time and attention, and knowing how much I both crave and need it from others to flourish, give it to them, for my flourishing is intimately connected to theirs. And more and more I abstain from what keeps me mired in myself, unplugging it so that I can be more keenly aware of the true framework in which I work, i.e., God's universe. Maybe I can plug it back in after I undergo the training to more properly see. Maybe not.
But if you're floundering for an answer to the question "Why?" or "For What?" in your Lenten observances, I offer you this explanation for the ascesis, abstract as it may seem. You're collaborating in the Spirit's training your eyes to see with the eyes of faith, disposed to the Spirit showing you a deeper truth of things than what is immediately evident. You're letting the Spirit train your mind so that you might reach toward God's outstretched hand and others rather than turning in on yourself. Your training is one of getting plugged into the framework of God's boundless and gratuitous love, free from the obligation of being your own savior, earning your worth, etc. You're being docile to the Spirit working in your heart, that more and more you may truly recognize Christ as he enters your life both regally and humbly and sing with the believers in Jerusalem, the angels, and all the more genuinely every time you're at Mass and sing, "Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of hosts! Heaven and Earth are full of your glory! Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"

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