The Examen

Something I should do more often, because I am gradually observing its effects, is the examen. Most of you have no idea what I’m talking about, and some of you are saying, “Yes, for the 50th time already!”

This is a form of Ignatian prayer that…oh, this is just much easier. Here:

The one I do is a spoken, guided examen (or meditation, for those of you who need that word to feel spiritual but not religious) from the Pray As You Go app. It’s accompanied by Purcell’s “Hear My Prayer, Oh Lord,” which is super helpful to get in the spirit of things. More importantly, to get in The Spirit.

It seems pretty simple, right? But when you glance over your day with the caveat that you will see what is important to God, it changes the review. You are simultaneously drawn to things you would otherwise find unimportant, & repulsed by things you kind of overlooked before. This is not meant as a form of self torment, but as a reality check. You are neither as good or evil as you think much of the time.

Your life is also much more lovely that you think. Really.

For example…I was having a bit of a difficult day yesterday. I am tired of being sick. So tired. I dragged myself to church because I really enjoy church, but it was also the annual parish meeting. We elect vestry & the folks who will go to diocesan convention. I was nominated for the latter, but am so new to the parish that I’m the last alternate. And that’s okay.

It was a long meeting. I took a lot of medication. By the time I got home, I was exhausted and weepy, but not actually weeping, and I was inexplicably annoyed. Then my team won, & is going to the Super Bowl, & that’s good, but I was still really fragile, which is a thing I do not enjoy.

During the Examen I was able to see where illness was making me mopey and where moments of genuine, really lovely joy occurred (& weirdly, they had nothing to do with the Pats’ victory).

Through the eyes of the Holy Spirit, I found moments of hilarity I’d forgotten about, was able to correctly see incidents I had previously assigned negative connotations to, and more deeply understood some of my own unhealed parts. I was able to forgive them & realize that they were amplified by illness.

Through the eyes of the Holy Spirit, I could see the many faces that had turned to me that day, and see their expressions anew. I could see where people were looking to me for comfort or affirmation. I could see it was not just me yearning for human acknowledgement (nobody, not even church people, wants to hug you when you’re sick), but others looking for it from me (and then recoiling in terror because I am sick).

There are still some things I don’t understand today, and that’s okay. If we’re really honest with ourselves, we understand virtually nothing anyway.

New questions have been brought up, new challenges. Some are really scary. Some are ones I’ve wrestled with for the past 12 years (or more), & I should probably set them aside until I am well.

I am frequently accused of being too patient, but in some areas, I really am not patient enough.

In a lot of ways, things were much easier to understand when I was a very sad, afraid person, because I always had a rock solid framework of misery through which to view the world, and I was always right. But I now realize I was right because my viewpoint couldn’t help but create my reality.

Oh my God, what would happen if my rock solid framework was simply following Christ, as in yesterday’s gospel and homily? What reality will that create? Can you even imagine? The idea is terrifying and exciting and magnificent.

I am struggling free of this net. Now what shall I do, flopping about on this boat deck, gasping for air?

It is interesting that I identify with the fish and less with the fishermen in the gospel.

Maybe I should pray about that tonight.

Here are some books I have written.

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Behold! The Rock.

I’m trying to learn to just let things exist in space.

If you are a creator or an over thinker (I am both, more the first than the second), you know how hard that is. If I see a blank page, it must be filled. I never suffer from writer’s block (though I do suffer from written schlock, which is what happens when you don’t have the sense to not write).

A lump of clay must be formed into something…maybe a bunch of somethings. A set up instrument must be played. Butter must be turned into cookies. Pork must become tacos. All materials must be transformed.

It doesn’t help to be a fussy Christian, though. You’re supposed to be the material that is transformed, but I admit I sometimes try to help God’s process along, like He needs my help somehow. “You may have noticed,” he says, all but his eyes obscured by a huge “World’s Greatest Dad” mug, “that I became flesh and died for you. I’m not really sure why you think you have to embellish that somehow.” He sips his tea, then sets it down. “I mean, it’s adorable that you’re trying to help. But maybe today you can stop trying to be better faster harder stronger & just let love transform you. Try it. It’s a whole thing. You might dig it.”

Today’s homily was about knowing Christ & letting Christ know you, as he knew to call Simon by a new name — Peter — aka The Rock, which forever changes my mind’s picture of the Father of the Church to Dwayne Johnson in a robe and sandals calling unbelievers candy asses. I don’t think that’s what Father intended, but that’s where I am now. The Rock — the Catholic Church. Inextricably bound up in my head.

And John knew that Jesus was the lamb, which was kind of not the thing you said to people back then.

We spend a lot of time not naming things. We say “difficult childhood” when we mean “protracted abuse.” We say “allergies” when we mean “I have had the flu for a week but do not send me home from work.” We have come up with a lot of complicated terms for what amounts to “terribly unhappy people”. Kids say they’re “talking” when what they mean is either falling in love or sending nudes (the opposite of falling in love).

I say “I’m working on myself” which is a sly way of saying “I, for some reason, do not trust the creator of the universe to move me.” I say “I am carefully considering my words” when what I really mean is “I am terrified you are going to think I’m stupid or horrible because I am unused to facing my raw emotions.”

What I am trying to learn is to just be. This is hard for women in particular because we are wired to communicate. It is even more hard for people of high verbal intelligence because we know there is AN EXACT WORD to describe what we mean, but it’s probably German.

But just being in the whatever is pretty much what God intended, I think. When you live there, inside the heart, whatever needs to exist just does. It’s the false reality created by our never ending streams of words that diverts the reality away from us. Words are protection.

Says the novelist. I literally make shit up & expect you to feel like it is real. I know how this works. I spent two days once looking up an obscure North English dialect so that another story I’m working on seems more authentic…to the maybe five people alive who care about such things. But again…that’s me not leaving well enough alone.

But we all make up our own narratives as we go along. A friend of mine who is not neurotypical helps point that out to me almost daily. Everybody has a version of themselves they present. Some are constant heroes of their own stories, some constant victims. Spectrum folks just say what happened, without the “polite” cushion of “difficult childhood”. It’s bracing. It’s a list of facts, happy and awful.

I am not “normal”, but I do have the gift/curse of crafting a narrative; I’m a storyteller after all. I also think narratives help us truly see things sometimes that we cannot look at directly — like the hole you cut into a box to view the eclipse.

I also think a gazillion things at once, so I can’t remember everything in order all the time. My roommate got annoyed with me (nicely) yesterday for telling a story completely backwards. But to me, that was when reality started. But she wasn’t wrong; going back and telling the story from the beginning helped me understand some things about what happened.

But again…this isn’t Being. This is Thinking. Thinking is such a gift when we want to cure cancer or put people on Mars. It should not hamstring the presence of love. It should not be allowed to shout out joy.

The “What would Jesus prefer I do?” post I did the other day is the one I keep coming back to in my head. Sometimes that really does amount to “Which choice, at this point, does the least harm?”, but the idea in future is to not even get there. From Wednesday on, I’ve been trying to naturally choose the thing that does the least harm, or even better, does the most good, to the best of my ability.

The thing that does the most good is always the thing that shows love.

“It’s not that simple.”

Shhh. Yes, it is.

Sometimes you can show me love by buying stuff I wrote.

WWJDBQwhatever

“Stahp!! WHYYYY”

We had a very interesting and raw discussion at midweek mass about discerning and following God’s will, & I’ve been struggling to convey it to other people. Since I’m shite at talking, I figured I could ramble a little here on my blog until I figured it out. Lucky you.

When I say “raw”, I mean it in the vulnerable, deeply honest sense (not Eddie Murphy). Father asked us in so many words how we discern God’s will, and as the midweek is an intimate gathering, about half of us piped up with something. One parishioner said it’s all pretty much there in the Bible. Another said it was to be more Christlike. Another said that she was trying to sort out what God’s will was for her personally.

That seemed to be where Father was going with that. This parishioner engendered a bigger discussion of discernment and prayer, where I disclosed that I pray every night, longing to be sent in the direction God wants me. And to have the sense to not resist it.

Because sometimes (as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, & Father pointed out in the discussion), we get super willful about what we want. We’ll cram a box of Ho-Hos down our gullet instead of take the time & energy to make a good Swiss roll from scratch (or, you know, forego sweets). We’ll watch just one more episode instead of go for a hike. We constantly choose shitty things for ourselves instead of treat ourselves like God’s favourite children (you’re all his faves).

Being the great uniter that I am (or whatever), it struck me during this discussion that if we linked the other parishioner’s suggestion of being more Christlike with how we discern what is God’s will for us, maybe we will suck less at discernment. I gave the example of my own craptastic decisions. Every time I made a choice sans Christ check on aisle 3, it led to freakin’ misery. And I pulled that magnificent stunt for 20-something years.

So, my trite soundbite solution to the discernment dilemma is not “What would Jesus do?” because Jesus was the Son of God & we’ve already established that pretty much none of us would do a lot of what Jesus did. I would love to end the health care “debate” (read: emotionally charged ragefest) by being able to heal all the sick personally, but that is not my gift.

So, it might be more instructive, when making a decision, to ask “Which would Jesus have me do?” When faced with getting into a name calling screaming match online or in person, would Jesus start PMing you sick burns? No. No, he would not.

When faced with eating nachos twice in one day, would Jesus then add a gallon of ice cream? Unlikely.

Does Jesus want you to take the soul sucking job, stay only to be beaten by your husband, overreact to everything, ghost the chick you no longer fancy, backhand your kid, mock others, live with flashbacks and night terrors, drop your faith to make others more comfortable, or spend so much money you lie awake at night crying from the pressure of your debt? No.

Jesus isn’t all “You suck.” Jesus is a lamppost. Follow the light. The light cannot help but lead you out of darkness — eventually. I think of my own experiences like a power outage. I was in such pitch blackness, but even one little match lighting one tiny candle can lead you to find other candles, and more light sources, and eventually an entire power station that keeps a city of millions whirring.

But, like, for the whole universe.

So, I guess what I’m saying is that discernment is simply a matter of finding the light. And sometimes, of being the light.

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My Lord & My God

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Long ago I made noises about posting my reactions to Father’s sermons here, & true to form I think I did that a whopping two times before senility & busyness claimed me yet again. Well, catechism is over, I & my sister & my fellow brothers & sisters in Christ are confirmed/baptized, & I’ve now been a year at Saint Thomas. I should probably FOCUS. Is it wrong to picture The Rock with angel wings, screaming at me?

Today’s gospel was, as the liturgical year demands, John 20:19-end. I really enjoy the whole of John 20. I love that Mary Magdalene calls Him “rabboni” (from the Easter service), a term of respect mixed with affection. If I were her, I’d be sobbing with joy as I said it. Can there be no greater happy shock than finding your beloved friend & teacher alive after watching Him suffer & die?

But back to this week. Here Thomas is not having any of this “Guys, for serious, I’m Jesus!” nonsense. He wants to poke the poor guy. Thomas is saying, in modern parlance, “You best bust with the holes in your hands & your side or you can get out.” We can’t be too hard on Thomas; this was the guy that was late to the party. Everybody else was present when Mary saw Jesus & told the other disciples “YOU GUYS! HE’S BAAACK!” Then He came to them & they got to have a jubilant old time with breathing the Holy Spirit & whatnot.

Thomas was that dude who found out a week later & was all WHUT?

So Jesus indulges him & Thomas says, in stunned joy & chastisement, “My Lord & my God.” Father points out Thomas does something very different here by acknowledging that Jesus is God. This is super hard for us to wrap our heads around (& is triply hard to explain to your Japanese roommate in college), but Thomas sees it. He feels it. He recognizes that Jesus is the entirety of God’s divinity in human form, that God deigned to live amongst us as one of us. He suffered as we suffer, & more so than most of us ever shall.

Jesus says to Thomas “Because thou has seen me, thou has believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”

Father asks us to imagine what it would be like if Christ returned today. What would we, creatures of 24 hour news & immediate gratification, need to believe that Christ was indeed Christ? In the scriptures, He performs many miracles that Bronze Age people immediately associate with the divine. But we see miracles every day. Cardiologists revive the dead on a daily basis. Man has walked on the moon. Bubble wrap & Hologram Tupac exist. We are a nonplussed people. Seriously, what would Jesus have to do to make Himself known to us?

Have that little conversation with yourself, & be honest. Most Christians would immediately say “Oh, I’d know,” but would we? We’ve all piled our personal aspirations on Christ. We’ve assigned him our politics. We have numerous distractions & points of cynicism to engage us. How would you know you were talking to the actual Christ?

I answered this question silently to myself in the pew, immediately. “If I hugged Jesus, I would be instantly healed. I wouldn’t have fibromyalgia any more, or celiac disease, or arthritis, and my metabolism would work, & then I would drop everything and follow Him because I actually could.”

Two things struck me later as important to examine so I could root out my own biases. First, the act of hugging was assumed. Of course Jesus is a hugger. Deacon Walter is a hugger. Father Davies is a hugger. Jesus would hug, right? Well, maybe not. Would a firm handshake suffice? Would I even need to touch Him?

And the second assumption is of course that I would meet Him. Now if you know me, you know that I eventually meet everybody, because that’s what I do. It’s not intentional; it just happens, no matter where I live or am. But there are 7 billion people on this planet and utterly no guarantee that Jesus would have even the faintest interest in visiting Los Angeles, or even America. His agent would argue that He needs to be out here, but that’s applying our ideas of publicity & outreach to Christ. Maybe Christ doesn’t reach people through media. Maybe He’s a Reddit poster, or an astronaut, or majors in interpretive dance. He could be a soldier or a cat fancier or a stay-at-home mom. This is the 21st century; He need not appear as a Jewish male in order to get people to hear Him.

So then what would Christ have to do to get you to believe?

Later in the sermon, Father mentioned that we are all, currently, the body of Christ on Earth. You have His hands, His feet, His eyes. I think Father was quoting someone but I missed that part thinking about how crappily I was treating Christ’s body. I was treating it very well, when I had a trainer. I was fueling it properly & exercising it properly. Over the past few months, though, as I continue to recover from injuries, I’ve been treating Christ’s body like the Play Doh Fun Factory.

If I ever needed a message to get me to properly think about how to feed Christ’s property, that was it. For lunch I chose brown rice & chicken breast, plus vegetables. Ok, I had a Chipotle bowl. There is no reason Jesus wouldn’t like Chipotle! Especially if He had fibromyalgia & couldn’t cook today cos of His neck & shoulders.

Anyhow when Father’s sermon is posted to YouTube, I’ll add the link here so you can see that what he said is a lot more learned than how I heard it.

Oh, & the picture above? Father gave the Class of 2014 catechumens personalized Byzantine icons. Mine depicts Archangels Michael & Gabriel. I think I know why.

KJ Adan also has a book out, in case you actually wanted to read something longer.

“You’re A Saint!”

People who are accused of sainthood will tell you over & over again: I’m just doing what comes naturally. Those who willfully take care of the needs of difficult people (whether you define that as the mentally ill, the neurotic, the perpetually angry or anybody in a Corolla going 20 mph down Ventura) don’t do so because they are saints or even massochists; they don’t know any better.

Does that make them saints, or does it simply make them followers of Christ?

Last Sunday’s sermon was about All Saints’ Day. It took me a while to figure out how to write about this. I have a number of excuses. Monday, somebody needed me more than I needed to write. Tuesday I went into fibroflare. Wednesday is my long day. Thursday I don’t even remember what happened. Friday I was drained. So here I am, secreted away in my room, avoiding several invites to go out because I’m tired & in pain, pondering sainthood.

Father says saints aren’t celebrities. I don’t take this to be a dig on famous folk so much as we need to focus on what celebrity means. A “celebrated” person is one we get excited to see, talk about, learn about. Angelina Jolie is a celebrity. Kanye West (my laziest long running joke) is a celebrity even if you hate him because he does things people want to talk about (& make lazy long running jokes about). The President is a celebrity, period, whether he’s Obama or Reagan or Rutherford B. Hayes, though Hayes is kinda D list now, which happens to all of us when we retire from the public eye.*

*If you so much as even think about “informing” me he’s dead in the Comments section, I will end you, though this means very little coming from an English person. I will probably serve you some crappy bagged tea & only bake you one cake.

For me it says that saints should be celebrities. We should celebrate & talk about those who have sacrificed great swaths of their lives (& sometimes their very lives) for the love of Christ. They show it to others, died in His name to honour it, lived it day in & out. But they weren’t being paid $3 mil a year to do an ad campaign, & they never flipped a table in childish rage on a reality show, so meh, say we.

This is actually just fine to the saint. Nobody who is a saint thinks they are one. They’re just doing their thang. They don’t want attention drawn to it; they don’t want a reward. They show love to others simply because it is the right thing to do. They exhibit this love to each individual, one at a time, because that is the most loving thing a human person can do–give personal time.

Anyone with a winning smile & a joke can stand up in front of a camera & say something nice & make people feel kinda good for a minute, maybe even longer. But saints will come to you when it’s convenient to you, not to them. Saints will help you just because you need it, not because they need someone to think they’re awesome. Saints don’t do things for others because someone’s watching.

So they can’t be celebrities. I don’t think the reverse is true. Celebrities could be saints & we’d have no idea, just like you don’t know that the guy going 20mph in the Corolla in front of you (allegedly the spawn of Satan & a diseased hamster as you curse him out from behind your steering wheel) gets up at 5 every morning & prepares meals for homeless folks. Or he visits sick children in the hospital. Or he donated bone marrow to a stranger. So yes, speed up, saintly man, but I’m sorry I called you the love child of Dolores Umbridge & a rusty flute.

Some of you (you know who you are) believe nobody does things from the kindness of their heart. You believe everybody’s got an angle. I used to believe as you do that everybody’s got their kink, their weakness, & no one is to be trusted. The PTSD part of me still eyes people warily in this fashion, suspecting that people are mostly crap. There are, however, real saints in the world. I think I’ve met a couple. It’s enough for me now to allow people to show me who they are. Most people are broken. Some heal jagged; some breaks reveal dazzling light patterns beneath, like the breaking set free the angel, at least in part. These are saints in our modern world. They’re broken, but they live in light anyway, & they want to share it.

But most people are crap. Jesus loves them anyway. If I can’t love them, I give them to Him. His SPCA is vast, His veterinary clinic fully stocked, funded & staffed, & His is a no kill facility.

Phariseetastic!

I find myself thinking about the sermons at St. Thomas of Hollywood long after we’ve all chanted “Thanks be to God.” As most of you don’t live in LA, & many of you don’t have the good fortune to hear Father Ian’s interpretation of the Gospel (or his signature humour), I thought I might write these impressions down.

Last Sunday, Deacon Walter chanted from the Gospel of St. Luke 18:9-14. To summarize, a Pharisee goes on & on about what a great fricken Jew he is & what a bad dude this publican is, & the publican feels bad, hits himself in the chest, & asks God to be merciful to him, a sinner. Jesus explains that the publican is a way cooler dude than the Pharisee because he admits his faults.

Father Ian went on to explain that not only do we find people like the Pharisee annoying, but he thinks maybe God does, too. If you’ve ever been a boss, you remember the kid that was fond of telling you everything he did during the day. You were thinking the whole time “Yeah, that’s your job, spanky.” Then you’d go to lock up or run a report & find stuff missing or undone. Alternately, you’d have an employee that would come timidly to your office & say “Uh, I think I screwed up” & that person was awesome because you could fix it right now, not at 6:47 when everyone else had gone home.

God loves everybody, but I have to think He rolls His eyes when folks go on & on about how they’re getting into heaven because they’re super duper on time to church or gave a ton at the plate or are Kanye West or whatever.

This reminded me, to my great personal horror, of a birthday party I attended in Croydon when I was 5. The birthday boy was Nicholas, my first love. He was tall (for a six year old), had blue eyes, was very nice, & was the sort of lanky grey colour English school boys tend to be.

His mum announced at the beginning of the birthday party that a present would be given to the most well behaved child. She then held up a festively wrapped box. She probably read this little trick in some mothering book or magazine, thinking it would elicit cherubic obedience from what might otherwise be a mewling hoard of primary school whingetarians.

She did not count on me, the ultra competitive people pleaser whose entire life up to that point was a study in impressing adults.

I announced from the get go that I would be so good, she would have no trouble deciding on whom should receive the present. She smiled. I then proceeded to help as much as was possible for a 5 year old. I was extra quiet except for my periodic announcements that I was being quiet.

At the end, Nicholas’ mum asked us to vote for who the best behaved child was. I humbly nominated myself. When informed I could not nominate myself, I cheerfully nominated Nicholas. When informed that the birthday boy was excluded, I thought for a moment. I looked at my very quiet little brunette friend in the corner, Joanne. “Joanne is the best behaved,” I said solemnly, as that was pretty much always true.

The other children nodded. Joanne looked positively horrified when she was handed the gift. We all asked her to open it. I don’t even remember what it was. All I remember is that Joanne did not seem to want any attention on her.

I have since seen that slightly guilty, horrified look on a little girl’s face when it was inevitable she’d win a game of musical chairs at the expense of a movie star’s daughter. The winner burst into tears; the movie star’s daughter, a very thoughtful & normal little girl, burst into tears because the other girl was upset. “It’s ok for you to win!” said the movie star’s daughter, stroking the sobbing winner’s hair. I imagine the winner’s mother made a tremendous fuss over being nice to Movie Star’s Daughter before the party.

I have two points (I know, I know). Point A: I was a hideous child, as despicable as the Pharisee in the gospel. B. Little girls have intense pressure from their status-seeking mothers, but also inherent empathy, until it is scolded from them by status-seeking mothers.

My mother, who was not seeking status via Nicholas’ 6th birthday party, might have been horrified to learn of my competitive goodness. The mother of Musical Chair Winner was probably pleased as punch to learn that her kid & Movie Star’s Daughter hugged it out.

I feel like Joanne & Musical Chair Winner were the “rest of the publican’s tale” of their respective stories. They didn’t feel like they did enough, they wanted to play it safe & escape notice, but then attention was called to them & they were rewarded for being humble in the face of it. The difference between myself & the Pharisee is that I loved Joanne & was happy she won, though by pointing this out, I’m still being a little Phariseesque I spose, in that I don’t want you to loathe 5-year-old me.

Is it wrong to want to be noticed for being good good good & oh so smart? Not really, unless that is the only reason you are being good good good & oh so smart. The idea in Christianity is that goodness is its own reward. Parents teaching toddlers empathy say this all the time. “See? Doesn’t sharing just feel good?” Most toddlers say no, mostly because that part of their brain hasn’t developed yet (so seriously don’t even worry about sharing until they’re about 4).

Maybe somewhere God is telling a bunch of angels “Seriously don’t even worry about teaching the humans sharing for another 2 millennia. Right now they’re doing it expecting some kind of societal feedback, with rare exception. Keep an eye on the ones that do it ‘just because’. They shall inherit the earth.”

If you remember nothing else from this, repeat this mantra: “Be awesome to other people. Don’t rabbit on about it, cos then you’re just Kanye*.”

*If you want to be Kanye, I can’t help you, but I’ll pray for you.