I do one of two things:
- try to be as mindless as possible
- try to be as engaged in thought as possible
Being mindless is easy – turn on the TV.
Being engaged is easy – find a puzzle: a game, a thought problem, a book.
Thing is, when I have time to myself, I seldom think to pray. I doubt this phenomenon is rare. Often, I try to pass off reflection of the theological/Biblical variety as prayer. While interesting and often educational/insightful, I don’t think it really counts as prayer.
So, then, I’m left wondering what is prayer, and how I can I know it to be worthwhile. So many times, people tell you it’s suppose be you and God time. God’s been really quiet these days – leaving me to wander back to the reflection stuff more than giving me the sense of some kind of communing. Very frustrating. But in absence of the perception of the presence of the Person, what am I to do? It all seems very backwards and counter-intuitive for what it is suppose to be about.
I went on a retreat last weekend. I left my wife at home with a sick baby boy who basically was at the beginning of a week of the runs. I’d call myself a jerk, but the whole thing was largely her idea. I even was okay with bailing on my refundable payment – but she more or less insisted I go ( … but remember, it was more or less … there was still room for me to bail if I really wanted to).
But I didn’t want to. I wanted to go. I wanted to see if (a) this retreat was worth all the hype I’ve heard and (b) if it could do anything for the spiritual slump I’ve been in for a year plus some.
As to the hype, I can see why there’s the hype. It’s a good retreat, especially for young adults who may be slightly wayward. A number of presenters shared their “wayward” stories – some particularly brutal and hard – and spoke to the awesome power, insight, peace, and struggle of redemption and orthodoxy.
As to soothing the pain of my spiritual slump and perhaps lifting the haze of malaise, I can say that it has brought to light a number of areas in my life that are probably contributing to my paralyzingly mute dissatisfaction. It’s given me some hope in that I have areas I can now firmly address. Among those are (1) I realize now I’ve been bringing work home much more often than I’ve been heretofore aware and (2) I realize that not being among folks who need to share their faith and life makes me pretty much miserable spiritually.
I didn’t learn a whole lot from the talks in themselves. In fact, the first point (bringing work home) I learned during Confession (crazy, huh? but it once again affirms – CONFESSION IS GOOD FOR YOU). The second point I learned from introspection about why I was enjoying myeslf so much during the retreat. No one told me, “You know, Spencer, you’re liking this retreat because we’re sharing with you and you with us.” It was something I became aware of during the mix of it all.
Probably my biggest beef with the weekend (and it’s actually somewhat small, though it has given me a lot to think about) was something I felt was missing. As I kind of summed it up in my survey of the weekend, I wanted a story about “Beaver Cleaver living the life of Captain Saint in a real way that relates to Larry Flint(sic).” (I only now remember that it’s Flynt, with a y.)
A number of the presenters told the rough and tumble stories of their lives – that of a life given to selfishness, gluttony, and near-despair. It’s amazing the tremendous amount of shit (and I only use the profane because, indeed, aspects of their stories in honest and earnest are the very essence of profane) folks go through in order to stand before you and claim Christ as their savior.
And while I appreciate those stories (indeed, they cause much rejoicing, allelujah!!), they present a kind of problem for people who have had incomparable life experiences. On the one hand, we’re all happy that we didn’t have to live that life. On the other hand, we now feel like we’re missing something in our life experience that validates why we’re standing with these people, claiming the same things. It feels like they are claiming something more … or claiming more profoundly.
As a teenager (and even to some extent a young adult), I had two knee jerk reactions to the feelings these stories evoked in me. It caused me to want to play the bad boy and/or re-work the stories of my past experiences so they felt more like the bad boy stories. Both of these reactions are wrong-headed and contrary to the desires the owner of those stories have for us. But when all you hear are stories of shit to redemption, it begins to fuel an inference, even if subconsciously, that you can’t really own your faith, your redemption without the shit.
But I believe there are stories about those who are and have, by and large, always been upright and good, who rescue those mired in the wastelands of sin and despair – and they need to be told . Understanding those stories would go a long way in helping those of us who have treaded only the borderlands of sin and despair our purpose, our ability, and our worth.
The other problem I’m left with is my relationship with these folks – those crawling by the nail-grip out of the wasteland of sin and into a new life. (ooo … I LIKE that description. It’s an original.) The worst that can be said of my life is that I’m a bad boy wanna-be. I’ve done a few things that have hurt people badly, but I haven’t done anything that ruined my or anyone else’s life. I’ve not lived in sin where the many people I become involved with are at risk of harm. Nor should I need to, nor do the bad boys in good faith want me to. But what do I have to offer them? How do I relate to them?
This problem I think I’m coming towards an answer, but I’ve yet to get a full grasp on it. But I’m thinking here of Christ’s death march to Golgotha. More than I can ever know and understand, these folks are working on a real Golgotha path.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that that their sins are forgiven, but all the same, putting the sins to death in the flesh is a very different matter – we all know this. Sins get a hold in our flesh, our flesh craves and wants, and temptation, it seems, always abounds – to be technical, concupiscence. As Christ destroys those sins before the Father on the cross, we must destroy those sins before the Father in our flesh – again, to be technical, sanctification.
Jesus didn’t walk in agony to the cross alone. He had fellow sufferers: His Mother, Simon, Veronica, the women of Jerusalem. And that is what we’re called to be to each other. I can’t stop the pain and agony of desire and temptation in someone else anymore than Mary, Simon, and the other women could stop Jesus’s crucifixion. But I can suffer with them. I can be with them. I can help shoulder that cross, though that cross is their’s all the same. I can wipe their brow, though they have a longer journey yet to go.
This is something so simple that it’s easy to dismiss or overlook, but the depth of its Truth and Love is infinite. We enter into the mystery of Christ when we emulate the good things of Jesus for His sake. Not only do we show true love, true faith, true devotion … but we enter into the very mission of His existence: to be witness to God and His infinite Love. We are in those moments very much Christians – little Christs.
So, yeah, good weekend. Lots of very positive things to think on and begin doing. You could say that I’m feeling spiritually happy, which I’m not sure I could really say for a long, long time. For those of you who have been praying, thanks.
I bought a CD of gregorian chant a while back. This hymn has always been my favorite on the CD. So, I decided to find what the lyrics were (Latin runs together to my untrained ear) and mean. Given the nature of my conversion, the fruit of my search gave me much encouragement and reassurance.
Pange, lingua, gloriosi Sing, my tongue, the Savior's glory,
Corporis mysterium, of His flesh the mystery sing;
Sanguinisque pretiosi, of the Blood, all price exceeding,
quem in mundi pretium shed by our immortal King,
fructus ventris generosi destined, for the world's redemption,
Rex effudit Gentium. from a noble womb to spring.
Nobis datus, nobis natus Of a pure and spotless Virgin
ex intacta Virgine, born for us on earth below,
et in mundo conversatus, He, as Man, with man conversing,
sparso verbi semine, stayed, the seeds of truth to sow;
sui moras incolatus then He closed in solemn order
miro clausit ordine. wondrously His life of woe.
In supremae nocte coenae On the night of that Last Supper,
recumbens cum fratribus seated with His chosen band,
observata lege plene He the Pascal victim eating,
cibis in legalibus, first fulfills the Law's command;
cibum turbae duodenae then as Food to His Apostles
se dat suis manibus. gives Himself with His own hand.
Verbum caro, panem verum Word-made-Flesh, the bread of nature
verbo carnem efficit: by His word to Flesh He turns;
fitque sanguis Christi merum, wine into His Blood He changes;
et si sensus deficit, what though sense no change discerns?
ad firmandum cor sincerum Only be the heart in earnest,
sola fides sufficit. faith her lesson quickly learns.
Tantum ergo Sacramentum Down in adoration falling,
veneremur cernui: Lo! the sacred Host we hail;
et antiquum documentum Lo! o'er ancient forms departing,
novo cedat ritui: newer rites of grace prevail;
praestet fides supplementum faith for all defects supplying,
sensuum defectui. where the feeble senses fail.
Genitori, Genitoque To the everlasting Father,
laus et jubilatio, and the Son who reigns on high,
salus, honor, virtus quoque with the Holy Ghost proceeding
sit et benedictio: forth from Each eternally,
procedenti ab utroque be salvation, honor, blessing,
compar sit laudatio. might and endless majesty.
Amen. Alleluja. Amen. Alleluia.
A comment I left over at Matt’s blog.
I’ve not read a lot of Chesterton, but the stuff I have read … well, it leaves me invigorated. Much the same with Lewis and Tolkien.
It’s not that these men knew how to draw out what is wrong with this world … they knew how to draw out what was right …
Sometimes I think we romanticize so much of the wrong of the world (even for seemingly right reasons) because that is what we know, can identify, and can relate to.
But these guys never romanticized the wrong. They certainly knew how to draw out and paint the depths of suffering, vice, and evil in the world … but what was romanticized and formed the contrast of their prose was the good, the ideal … a glimpse of a hobbit-esque world of self indulgent selflessness in between the larger resistance to gluttonous selfishness.
There is a life event in every male’s life – an event every male I know to have gone through, even if it were just a matter of a one-time suffering or something made to be a recurring delight. This event is …
Specifically, Mario Kart.
And Josh has come of age.
He can make it through the courses now, which makes him now a gamer among gamers even if he still isn’t very good.
If I pump the acceleration like I were trying to shoot in an old arcade shooter, Josh can give me a pretty good run for the money in vs. mode.
How my heart leaps for joy as I see him pull and rotate the remote the way he wants to go! And, as any good gamer would do, I am trying to use this as leverage for purchasing the Nintendo Wii.
My little boy is growing up! I really did get misty eyed by all of this. Lisa’s reaction was startlingly male-ish: “what’s the matter with you – this is what you’ve been waiting for.” Clearly, there are things the sexes just don’t understand about each other.