Reflections on loving God, being Catholic, being a woman, being ill, loving life and anything else that comes to mind.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What It's Really All About – Part 2

I have never been able to avoid suffering. In my life, the cross is real. Of course that's true for each person though it often goes unrecognized, relabeled as bad luck . But the fact of it remains and is so significant, I expect to experience it even in seeking to fulfill my vocation. If the cross is real then so is the empty tomb – facts generate facts. So I am not looking for Mr. Right, neither he nor Miss Right exists. They're lovely fantasies, nothing more. I have spent a great deal of time dallying with, wallowing in, comforting myself with such fancies: one of the first books I read was, unfortunately, Perrault's retelling of Cinderella: for long, I dreamt of and awaited my Prince. But the imagined brings only fleeting, barren comfort, a comfort that is, in the end, no comfort at all. The realization that I controlled my fantasies made them increasingly unfulfilling. There are those who prefer the control fantasy offers. Charles Williams examines that choice in Descent Into Hell, a book I highly recommend. But ultimately, fantasy is choosing less than nothing. I want more. Choosing more always includes choosing Calvary not as a final stopping place, but rather as necessary fact preceding the empty tomb.

Choosing more also requires saying yes to a vocation that "is love in its fullest sense, which is to say, not merely relational and social, but spousal, …full and complete communion with another. ...[We are not] called to be alone because 'it is not good that man should be alone.' None of us has a vocation to [isolation], without God or other persons, which is singlehood in its fullest extent." None of us is called to reject the other sex. Some are called to sacrifice marriage with the other sex and instead, enter into direct spousal relationship with God himself. But God calls none of us to decide that the other sex is irrelevant in our lives. Nor does he call any one of us to decide that such relationships are not worth the bother. "Male and female" he made us, of a woman was he born: men and women participate in each others holiness. When women reject men, they reject God who became man. When men reject women, they reject the woman who brought God into the world and so, reject God who became man as well. By taking on our humanity, God has forever made it impossible for us to reject one another without also rejecting him.

We have a particular vocation, a vocation tied to the relationship between male and female. Sin in this fallen world can present impediments to the manifestation of the results of that vocation but we have a Father in heaven who accepts our desire as fact. It is not given to us to control results but only to respond to the call. If we get up and, to the best of our abilities, seek to respond to his voice, even if we are too weak to get far, even if we find our paths blocked by insurmountable barriers, even if we die along the way, our Father counts our desire as accomplished fact. But, if we say, "It is impossible!", if we decide not to try, then we choose less than nothing; we choose death.

Spousal relationship is really all about holiness, being made able to spend an eternity in the relationship that is utterly self-giving, utterly creative, utterly love. It is essential to being conformed to Christ's image. Spousal relationship means making a conscious commitment to embrace the hardships of life. Not just my own personal hardships either. Nor is it just embracing hardships in a fashion that I can control, making a commitment that I can resign when I'm tired or if something else more important comes along. Rather, it is vowing to embrace the hardships that come in consecrated relationship, relationship that once entered into becomes necessary fact in our relationship with God himself. Such embracing begins as unconsecrated men and women whose hearts are and remain open to respond with Fiat!: this is the first hardship we must embrace. We are here to learn to "bear the beams of love," to bear the brightness of a relationship that would utterly destroy us unless we have become something more, a something more that only comes from the kind of self-giving that counts neither the cost nor the passage of time but trustfully waits with open hearts to be disposed of in consecrated relationship as he sees fit.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

What It's Really All About - Part 1

This morning I awoke feeling unsettled, my mind filled with images of being sexually abused. I asked God, what it was all about and burst into tears. Then came sobbing and pain in my heart and more and more and more crying.

Over the past few days I’ve felt something was off, felt the occasional twinge of pain in my heart; my behaviour has been a bit manic at times. I’m not easily depressed at least not anymore. I am, in fact, probably one of the happiest people on earth – I was born that way. That tendency to happiness has stood me in good stead particularly during the years when I lived in a cloud of depression – from the time when my parents were killed, when I was about four and one-half or five, until my mid-twenties when through much therapy and much prayer and steady outpourings of grace the lights were turned up and everything became brighter and sharper and clearer; though God had given me great interior illumination throughout my childhood, once healed, I felt as if I had never experienced real light before. The healing process continues and now depression is a rarity. Still, on occasion, something will poke me and I know, time for more healing.

When I began studying philosophy last autumn, my spiritual director told me to ask the questions to which I don’t already have answers. I find myself doing just that more and more. Certainly, I don’t know the answers to being and remaining open to marriage for years, perhaps even for the rest of my life. But it really doesn’t surprise me that exploring the question reveals tender places and unhealed wounds. In fact, if this is as important as I believe it to be, I expect writing about it to be a dredging process; if there were no impact on me, the question wouldn’t be worth asking. Still, I am not accustomed to waking to such thoughts. Neither am I accustomed to bursting into tears that continue and continue and continue.

In answer to my question this morning about the thoughts that filled my mind and the sobbing and tears, I found myself face to face with white hot terror and thinking, Nobody wants me! It’s an old fear that is particularly healed in the experiences of community, of the Body of Christ which saturate my life today. But not so many years ago, when I found an antique volume of Tennyson’s poems and joyfully told my Anglican rector about it, he told me to read Maud and then quoted, Faultily faultless, icily regular, splendidly null...; I realized he was talking about me. This morning, memory of him quoting those words accompanied the white hot terror and I found myself feeling there would be no sustainer, nobody who wanted me and it was all my fault.

I wanted to delve into them, to analyze all the reasons men might see experience me as Maud. And I could have filled the rest of the morning distracting myself with them, picking them apart, laying them out neatly and trying to justify or resolve each one. Except the feelings and reasons don’t matter. The fact is that I am terrified that nobody wants me and it is my fault but, at the same time, I am called to be open to marriage and that is utterly ludicrous. Utterly impossible. I just don’t know how to do it.

Recently my rheumatologist prescribed injections of methotrexate to treat the autoimmune diseases with which I live. Arrangements were made for a nurse to teach me to inject myself. I was given a fake leg to practice and merrily filled the syringe and stabbed the unfeeling rubbery plastic several times injecting it with a good amount of saline solution. Then it was time for me to inject myself. Filling the syringe – no problem. Ditto swabbing and pinching the site. I plunged the needle towards my leg but suddenly stopped short just as it touched my skin. “I can’t,” I told the nurse. “I just don’t know how to choose to hurt myself.”

She said, “Look, I’ll hold your hand and we’ll do it together.” I watched her take hold of my hand and when I stopped short once again, she gently continued to push it forward until we had plunged the needle into my leg. Doctors and technicians stab me with great regularity and it always hurts but surprisingly, this injection didn’t, not even a little prick of pain.

As I recall learning to inject myself, as I consider the terror that no one will want me and it is all my fault, as I am tempted to delve into all the reasons why I don’t know how to be open to marriage, I realize once again, I don’t need to know how to do it. Belonging to God means there are infinitely strong, unimaginably gentle hands wrapped around mine; the experience of his arms holding me is present in my earliest memories. He will provide the way for me to be open despite all the tender places and wounds.

I am not writing a “how to” manual for myself or for anyone else. And ultimately, the real terror is not that nobody wants me but rather that I am not really open to marriage, not really open to the violence of divine love. And that is unacceptable because there is something I want so much more than marriage. I want to live Fiat! In reality not just in my words. There is a song I desperately want to sing. A song of mercy and love, a tiny echo of that greater Magnificat. He who is mighty continues to do great things and being open to marriage is all about being open to his gentle might.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Possession – Part 2

[She] belonged to him so completely that he could even decide not to keep [her] for himself but to order that [she] be given to another, by an act of obedience… (C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength)

I did not learn until several months ago that the Church teaches there are two (and only two) vocations, marriage or the consecrated celibate life. I had honestly believed being single was a third vocation, had been told as much by both Anglican and Catholic teachers. Of course logically the default state is single. It’s the way we all begin. Yet the Church views it as a temporary state, as transitional – Catholics take Genesis seriously: "[i]t is not good for the human to be alone, I shall make him a sustainer beside him.” (Genesis 2:18 from Robert Alter, Genesis a Translation)

It has been almost exactly three years since I returned to the Catholic Church after spending a number of years in the Anglican Communion. In that brief period, there has been a radical change in me. As an Anglican, my immediate response would have been to deconstruct the Church’s teaching, to find it’s deep, spiritual meaning which ratified my belief that being perpetually single was actually God’s will. As a Catholic, I simply accepted it and now the real work begins. I am accustomed to being single, do all sorts of things, conscious and unconscious, to remain that way, take great delight in doing as I please with my life.

But I want to belong to God even when I fight against him, even when I resent him doing anything at all with me; too often I feel that he should do with me as I please. And I can’t fix myself – even to belong to God. I am so weak and inept I cannot even give myself to God unless he gives me the ability to do so. But my automatic response to follow church teaching, to relinquish my belief that I am okay on my own, is evidence that he is giving me that ability. Something truly has changed in me: I value the Church’s teaching more than I value my own preferences and inclinations – I am learning obedience.

What was so laughable about my foster father’s attempt to arrange a marriage for me was that he failed to realize it had been many years since I had obeyed him. He believed he owned me, could dispose of me as he pleased. For my part, I wasn’t even aware of his attempt to do so. Had he never told me he wanted me to marry the seminarian, I’d have just continued to think he was weird for expecting me to entertain that poor young man – it really was a silly thing to expect of me. But he didn’t know that. My foster father didn’t know he didn’t know me, didn’t know I was only using him to get back to New York, had never noticed that our relationship had undergone a radical change and I now manipulated him. And because he was simply something to use there could be no obedience. Obedience belongs to the province of love and I did not love him. There was absolutely no connection between us – we spoke radically different languages, came from radically different perspectives.

Though I did not obey him, within me there was a hunger to be obedient. I wanted someone to whom I could listen, someone to follow. Eventually, I even tested whether I had a vocation as a consecrated celibate and though I knew obedience would be very difficult, it was also exciting. But the discernment process showed me I had been saying to God, I love you so much I’m willing to do anything you want and then had immediately assumed I knew what that was. (What else does one deliriously in love with God become?) But I came to see I had never considered the importance of sex (something I shall address in (an)other post(s)) and then realized I had never asked God, What do you want me to do? When I did ask, the answer was simply to live and become holy. So as long as I obeyed the teaching of the church, obedience seemed not to be an issue any longer.

But neither the teaching of the church nor obedience mean much in the Anglican circles I frequented. Though there are many people who will tell one what to do, the teaching there has become so murky, so capricious, there’s no path to follow, only many different ways to become lost. But now that I am safely back in the Catholic church, I do have a clear path and if I am to belong to God, I must accept that being single is not a viable vocation. Since I am not called to the consecrated celibate life, I must be open to marriage. That doesn’t guarantee that I will marry – this is still a broken world and much is not at all as God would have it be. But if I am to obey, I cannot make a decision to be perpetually single. Obedience demands that I prepare myself for marriage, that I live my life in the hope that God has made me to be, has made for me a sustainer and that in the fullness of time we will be married.

I did not belong to my foster father. He had no right to dispose of me as he saw fit. I knew that, knew that it was not my business to obey him. I do belong to God. I am his to with as he pleases. That is exactly as it should be. And though I am a woman of this age and not another so that the very idea of being given in marriage is fraught with all sorts of modern connotations, and though my feelings still tell me that single is a perfectly fine default position, I can accept that the modern connotations are wrong and my feelings are broken. It really does seem I am learning obedience.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Unmarried Not Single

Additional posts onthis theme coming soon - my health is being fractious. I am engaged in lots of thinking and can't wait to be able to spend some time writing. Pray for me.