Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Healing My Memory

Another take on the "Healing My Faith" line of thought -- and I hope that others will write their own insights and share them somehow, even if it's just in the Facebook comments. I think we all help each other because we can all relate to each other's experiences. 

I wanted to bring up another topic, which is about the way I have changed my view on the ten years spent in Regnum Christi. For the first eight or nine years that I was out, I would have told you unhesitatingly that those years were a waste. Academically, professionally, financially, even socially, they were lost years. Not only that-- the very suggestion that those years had value was irritating to me.

I'm not at the point where I would say like Nicholas, "I'd do it again 1000 times" or "I'd support my children if they wanted to sign up." I'm actually light years away from that. Actually, I'm pretty sure I will not ever reach that point. But I can -- feeling strangely heretical to myself in the process -- quietly say "thank you" for the way those years helped me grow. To be sure, there were also some scars and some atrophy. But my sense now is that in my life the benefits outshine and outlive the scars, which are fading with time.

One of the immature aspects of my faith is that I like neat narratives where the story comes full circle and ends with a satisfying conclusion, with some tidy lesson learned or some higher stage of enlightenment achieved. Don't we all? I don't like messiness and ongoing questions and unresolved issues. I want it all wrapped up in pretty paper with a bow on top. Instagrammable, even.

But I think the underlying error of that perspective is that I'm operating from the paradigm of control. Understanding everything and banishing mystery is a form of seeking control. I don't like to be a character in the story that's only halfway through unfolding; I'd rather be the author of the story who is proceeding along a plot line that jives with my sense of rightness, order, and justice, and who can be confident of reaching the denouement according to plan. Control, control, control. It seems that I have a soccer mom lurking within.

One of the big messages of Pentecost, given by an excellent priest at a nearby parish that I don't usually go to, was that this overweening desire for control is actually the legacy of original sin -- in the sense that when Adam and Eve took the forbidden fruit, the deeper meaning of their action was that they were essentially saying, "No, God, I get to decide what's right and wrong, not you. I am in charge here. This is my life, and I'm going to live it the way I think best." He went on to say that when we do this -- and we all do it, probably multiple times a day in big and little ways -- what we are really doing is depriving ourselves of all the divine help and guidance that we could have if we would just abide in God and do things with him.

The priest said that the person who says, "Leave me alone, I can do it all by myself" is basically alone on a desert island, trying to kill a fish with a rock, feeling thirsty, hungry, and frustrated.

But the person who lets God lead him is like a child who gets into the car to go somewhere because... Mom said so. No control over the gas pedal or the steering wheel, and probably no idea of where Mom is taking him. But even though he has no control over the car, the child's needs are cared for and attended.

"Mom, I'm thirsty" (the ever present refrain in our car rides).
  -- "Here's a little water bottle" (because Mom is ALWAYS PREPARED for car-induced dehydration).

"Mom, I have to go potty" (direct consequence of the above).
  -- "Okay, just hold it till next exit and we'll stop."

"Mom, are we there yet?"
  -- "Not yet."

The priest's point was that we tend to box God out of our life because of this self-protective, mistrustful need to be in control all the time. In essence, the sin is one of mistrust: only I know how to run my life. Only I know what's good for me. Only I can provide for myself. Sometimes these attitudes are also caused by the bitter experience of having been let down before by people who should have taken care of us, or by people who promised much and delivered little. But sometimes it's also our own fault. We can be stubborn and willful because we enjoy being in control -- or, more accurately, having the illusion of control -- and that's on no one but us.

Anyway, he went on to say that the task of Pentecost is to receive the Holy Spirit, and that since God cannot be controlled -- he insists on being independent -- prayer is essentially a process of letting him steer the ship, trustfully giving him a chance to come in and help us out, and maybe turn our grim little island into a blooming oasis while he's at it.

A few more jewels from David G. Benner's Opening to God gave me a better sense of why I should trust God to steer the ship (or drive the car, or write the story). He writes:

God is present. But we must be prepared to allow God to arrange the encounter. The divine rendezvous must always be under God's control. The seeking, reaching out and communicating always begin with God. But we must be prepared for the fact that God will not be where we often might expect. 

Prayer is not a magic ritual that allows us to bring the divine under our control. It is much more like floating on the dark river of God's love. You may not be sure where the river is taking you, and it will require that you surrender your control over the journey and the relationship, but one thing you need never doubt -- the Lord of love has arranged the prayer rendezvous. [...]

Floating demands trust. Not only do you have to trust that the current is taking you in a direction that is ultimately one of blessing, but you also have to trust that you will stay afloat and won't bump into anything dangerous. That is why genuine openness to God must start with a deep assurance of God's love for you.

He goes on to talk about spiritual dryness, and he says that these are times when we learn that we can't control God, or turn his blessings "on and off like a water faucet." He also observes that John of the Cross said that "this frustrating independence of God is the best proof we have that God is God, not merely a figment of our imagination."

So how does all of this fit in with the healing of memory? I think for me, the return to faith is a return to that dark river, an acceptance that in spite of my well-defined plans and goals, I have no real idea of where I'll end up in the future, nor do I see how my past fits into the larger narrative of my life and its meaning, but I do trust -- or I want to trust -- that it is not meaningless or purposeless, and that God didn't let me shipwreck. On the contrary, I came safely to a new shore; my life is totally different from what it would have been if I had never taken that path, and... I actually like it. And even though I'm a work in progress and all that, I've noticed that my inner monologue is positive. I'm not filled with the same negative, self-critical inner voice that I used to have many years ago. It's more of a "You can do this, Trish!" voice. I'm generally enthusiastic about life and am generally buoyant, excluding early mornings when I am nailed to the sheets.

In light of the outcomes, I want to trust that for me those years were a strange gift that appears loathsome from some angles, lovely from others. I would like to "stop kicking against the goad," so to speak, arguing with God about why he allowed me to make such a stupid mistake, or wondering whether I am at all capable of listening to God and discerning his will when I was obviously so deluded about this notion of a vocation.

I'm still pending a good answer on that last issue. And I have no neat answer for the shocking tragedy of those "20 to 100" boys whose souls and bodies were violated. I can't understand that and I can't accept it. I can't make sense of it. This is where the neat narrative stumbles. How do you just move on when there are these casualties along the side of the road?

Does the moral arc of the universe bend toward justice? Not in the hands of man and much less in the designs of faceless "history," but it does in the hands of God, as Archbishop Chaput said somewhere. I hope those boys, now men, receive the special grace they need. I hope they get it in floods and torrents, like an ocean of mercy to heal their deepest wounds.


Getting back to the idea of controlling versus abiding, the final thing the priest said on Pentecost that helped me was that we have to actively receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, which means asking him to come in, not just one and done, but every day and even quite frequently.

I very much like this idea -- and it is not new but it feels new to me now -- that God is so respectful of our freedom that he waits for us to ask. And even when we sin and fall, he lifts us up respectfully, with a love that lets us participate in our own healing and is eager to make our faults and indignities go away. I love the idea of a deeply respectful God, which is so different from the implacable, angry, yet "merciful" God of Islam who demands submission and who maintains a kind of jealous, almost scornful distance from man. The "mercy" of such a God would feel like a burdensome reproach; one would approach the smoldering volcano with fear and anxiety. Much better the Christian God who carries all our burdens with us in solidarity and wants to show us the best possible way to be free, as friends.

In this sense, abiding and not controlling means holding God's hand and saying over and over again, "I trust you to lead me because I know you love me better than anyone." It's not, "I'm not to be trusted with my own freedom because I'm an idiot, so here, take mine" but rather "I have these gifts and I offer them to you, and I know you can magnify them and bring them to full fruition. Help me to be free with you. I want to be with you on this great adventure."

Another tiny tidbit that I found touching, from the words of Mary to a saint: "Transform every moment of your day into a colloquy with Me: I want to hear your voice, my son!"

Respect and interest, love and eagerness for communion. I love this idea that the face of God is turned toward us, that he wants to hear our voice, and that all we have to do in return is to open up the secret space of freedom inside and say, "Yes. I'm coming home."

1 comment:

Brokk said...

You always have such interesting viewpoints that really make me stop and think. So here are my gut reactions:

Seeking to understand something is a form of control? Well, I suppose it is. A child wants to learn something so that he can do it. As an adult, non-activity based understanding is something I need to make better decisions. I don't see this as a bad thing. Even within the church there are studies, theologies, seeking greater understanding of God and the bible. This also is a type of control. Yet, I don't see it as a bad thing. God created us with curiosity (or was that only after original sin) and the desire to explore and seek understanding of the world/universe. Why even create all the fantastic things around us if we were just meant to sit around smiling at each other?

The frustrated man on the island, versus the child in the car seat. I know which one I prefer to be. Every child also seeks to be that man on the island. From the earliest moments after birth, we look around, seeking to know and learn. As soon as we have even basic motor control, we are reaching out, grabbing, feeling touching, learning. At each step in life we are always seeking more knowledge, driven on-ward by something inside us. Every parent has faced that time over and over, where the child wants to "do it for myself". There is something satisfying about meeting our own needs. Not needing to rely on others. When we get old and feeble, there is a constant reluctance to let go as well. To relinquish that independence and allow ourselves to rely on others again.

To me this is inherent to every human being. This burning need. This is not something learned. It exists within us from the moment of birth. It's not evil or good. It is something we were created with. I can't imagine God would create us that way and not want us to use it. The ultimate gift that God gave each of us is free will. Choice. The ability to decide for ourselves. Does he want us to give that up and leave all choices to Him?