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

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Difficult Time

These days I awaken from sleep in a hazy, drugged stupor that lasts for an hour or more so that I usually open my copy of Magnificat and begin Morning Prayer before I am fully aware. This morning, I was surprised to find myself reading:

Psalms such as this are not reserved for those who are persecuted by visible enemies. They are given to us to pray whenever life’s troubles threaten to overwhelm us.

Now I know, like any other magazine, Magnificat is written well in advance of publication. How could Fr. Peter Cameron and the staff know that this is an especially difficult time for me personally and also for the country? When the Intercessions included:

You delivered your people from exile in Babylon: deliver all those who endure or fear the loss of homes and livelihood,

I realized that perhaps the lead time is not as great as I had at first imagined and also, that Morning Prayer was being very practical when I’ve been thinking of it as a nice way to begin my day. At first, this was a bit of an affront. Very soon though, my surprise (and drugged stupor) passed off so that I was awake enough to remember what prayer is.

Life isn’t going all that well for me right now. I’ve spent the past few weeks experiencing debilitating and painful symptoms that may well be side effects from the magic medicine. Of course some or all of the new symptoms may not be the result of the new meds but that is no better – my health is worse. I’ve had to realize that I can’t be fixed in a month or two or three (and I had hoped to return to work for the fall season). This is a long-term enterprise. My doctors are doing their best but treating autoimmune diseases continues to be a trial and error process: this week, one doctor told me it would probably take a year or more to figure this out and treat it enough so that I can go back to work. There may be some who hate work and wish they could stay at home and have nothing to do. At times, I have felt the same way – but I was working then. And perhaps, if one is healthy, that would be lovely, at least for a while. But after three months of mostly sitting on my bum, I can say, I am never bored but I am often lonely. And while it is possible that I may be able to do a bit of volunteer work and some writing and there’s always my new project, Glam of God*, my body holds me down, I’m sick much of the time: there are strict limits to what and how much I can do and few people around for most of the day. (And certainly the cold of winter will encourage me to stay home alone more often.) This is not the life I would choose for myself, not the life I’ve worked and hoped for. Just thinking about it makes my heart hurt.

And the country is in a very, very difficult time. People are afraid. There is a presidential election looming. One candidate encourages death (and we must accept that people who kill their children cannot be working towards life and social justice for anyone). The other candidate mostly encourages life and surrounds himself with those who encourage it even more than he, but he does not inspire the confidence so many people long for. For those people, he’s very far from perfect and there is the enticing alternative of a kind of perfection that embraces death while promising life. For those not enticed by that false promise, the candidate who embraces life is problematic but the best leader available and we fear he may not win.

Economic problems also terrify many, many of us. What if the stock market fails? What if banks fail? What if we lose everything? What if life becomes harder? Even those of us who live rather frugally have benefitted from an economy in which people buy everything they want on credit and assume they’ll have the funds to pay the bills when the time comes. Since at least the ‘80s, we have lived in a world that extends credit in such lavish style many of us no longer just live from paycheck to paycheck (people have been doing that forever) but as far beyond our paychecks as possible. And we do so individually, as a country, as a world. Food and housing and practically every other basic commodity human beings have historically worked hard to provide for themselves and their families have been abundant and fairly cheap. Things that were considered luxuries in the ‘50s and ‘60s are taken for granted today throughout the industrialized world and, increasingly, throughout the other two-thirds of the world as well. We haven’t really cared much about how the bounty has come to us. We have come to believe that the lifestyles to which we have become accustomed are what we need and what we deserve.

And now we’re angry and afraid. Government and big business have failed us. We don’t want to pay more money to bail them out. We want them to fix things, to come up with a solution so that we can be left alone to go our way and continue to live the lives we are owed. Our collective surprised, angry howl sounds in the thousands and thousands of emails and voicemails demanding that our elective representatives not bailout big corporations with our money, or wait and see if it’s really necessary, or, at least, make certain we get something in return.

I think many of us are looking for parents – people who will pick us up and take care of us. People who, knowing how to navigate this horrible world that suddenly threatens to harm us, will carry us to safety and make the bad, scary things go away. But we don’t expect that to happen and we are left afraid that we face lives we would never choose for ourselves, lives we would never work nor hope for. Just thinking about it makes our hearts hurt and too many of us don’t know how to stop thinking about it.

The last Intercession this morning read:

You delivered the world from sin and death: deliver all those who minds and hearts are wrapped in the darkness of fear and anxiety over the burdens they must bear.

We aren’t helpless. There is something we can do and it’s past time for us to get busy. Prayer is always the most practical thing we can do and we know, the prayer of the Church is powerful. We also know the prayer of sacrifice, of offering God our fearful, hurting hearts is at the center of that practicality. If we turn our troubled thoughts to the truth for just one moment, we know this is an opportunity to participate in the Cross. It’s not fun. It’s frightening. It’s also a great honour which we mustn’t pass up.

The defeat of those who embrace death becomes more and more important to me each day. (I can’t believe how political I’ve become.) So God is welcome to use my fear of continued loneliness, a fear that is greater than I knew, to help make that happen (or for any other purpose He desires – but I think he desires this). And, I know that what I’m actually suffering is not reality but fear; I have been at home for three months and though it’s lonely and I miss work, I’m okay and I suspect that I will be okay a year from now. The Friend who has been with me my entire life will not leave me or fail me now so it is safe to let Him take my fear and use it in his economy.

Today, many of us dread the future. But we know that has happened before. Today, we’ve come to see that things are not as we imagined. But that too has happened before. Today, we long for someone to make things – us and our lives and our world – well. Such longing has been and will continue to be ours until we reach heaven. But today, we can ask God to use our fears in his economy. Our fear is safe with Him. He will never leave us or fail us even when life is not as we expect it to be. And, He never spends beyond His means.

* Glam of God is a new idea I’m thinking about for a site that presents fashion and femininity through the lens of Theology of the Body. I’ll keep you posted.