Purity

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, & from whom no secrets are hid, cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, & worthily magnify thy holy name, though Christ our Lord. Amen.

Isn’t it amazing what you take on board & find playing on repeat in your mind at 11:27 PM on a Tuesday night?

Whenever we say this prayer at the start of mass, two things happen. First, it doesn’t matter what priest is leading it. I will always hear Father Davies’ Welshy Londony voice in my head.

Second, I tend to place a lot of emphasis, when I recite it, on the “all desires known.”

This is because I literally have no idea what I want half the time. I figure God knows what I will not admit to myself. I have ideas about what I want, & then I move toward those things, & then God laughs & says, “Oh, child, that is funny. My dear creature. Hilarious.”

He’s not wrong. I’ve talked about babies & dusty crackers in one of my books. God does not want me to put that wretched thing in my mouth, & I let him lead. Now I am trying to let him lead completely, without even trying to do anything.

This is producing results that have me saying things to him like “This makes legit zero sense.”

And God responds enthusiastically, “Oh, you think that was crazy? Hold my beer!”

If God knows all my desires, and this is where I’m going, I am a much stranger person than I thought. Like, seriously, flawlessly bizarre. I wouldn’t even know how to describe some things that have happened without sounding like I was trying to story board a fourth season of Twin Peaks.

It’s all real, but it’s not normal.

It’s certainly not bad. It is a series of gentle, free (or nearly free) and sometimes ludicrously joyous happenings that are seemingly unrelated. A teenager tells me after five minutes of conversation that I am now her best friend. A small child describes sharks and yogurt to me in grave, exacting detail. A friend sings “Don’t Fear the Reaper” to me the same way Carol Burnett might. On a warm afternoon, I am somehow the center of a very attentive universe, when my plan that day was to serve. I get sick again, & the cat kneads me for the first time since I rescued him. I have a job I love, friends who care, and a DJ who just mashed up David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” with Justin Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie.”

I don’t even know who I am any more.

Is this what #blessed looks like? It’s weird, you guys. Smiling randomly to yourself all day is weird.

All desires known.” Well, what else do I want, Lord? Where TF does this crazy train go?

If you have that opening riff in your head right now, I have won.

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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.

Never Too Old

Here is a list of things I’ve decided you’re never too old to enjoy or endure.

  • Ice cream
  • When the beat drops (though you may be twice the age of everyone else in that club, you can still put it down, assuming you’re not sick or your back isn’t acting up that night)
  • Your face to break out when you’re twitterpated over someone
  • To squeal when you see a kitty, or a thing with Hello Kitty on it
  • Butterflies
  • Mentors
  • To get something new out of a Bible passage you’ve heard at least 17 times
  • To enjoy wonder
  • To smile absently to oneself when thinking of people

As a friend my mother’s age said to me tonight over dinner, “I don’t grow old. I just grow older.” She then told me how much she still enjoys “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” Then she sang it for me. I mean, come on. Magic.

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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.

All the Atoms

A poem.

There isn’t one particle of anything ever in this

outstanding universe that wasn’t touched by the hand of God and in His mercy

He has seen fit to take crude flesh and place it here where It can

Be in this warmth and

Soak in this sun and

80 degrees in January yes

God even saw fit to make LA to

Put these people here in this tortured geography and hope they’ll do their best but

Some of them are evil and

Some of them are magnificent and

Some of them are angels and

This is their city and

They run this town

On the down low

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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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Medium excess

I was just musing over some of the more fun experiences I’ve had since living in Los Angeles, and without exception, every single one of them involved middle aged, middle class men going slightly overboard at dinner.

I am not talking about rappers popping bottles or doctors splurging on the Kobe beef or any of that claptrap. I am talking about simple, hard working excess.

What does that look like? He tells you “Oh, you need another drink. Also we need tableside guacamole. Let’s just go nuts!” He is literally spending in excess of $40 here. Somebody stop him.

Or there’s two bottles of wine at dinner, or there’s more Chinese food than four people can eat, or somebody suggests a pitcher of margaritas but won’t let anyone chip in to pay.

OMG. I just realized I am describing dad luxuries. They’re not enough to break the bank, but you’d never do it every day. Maybe someone won a golf bet or had a little saved up from last month. This is the guy who takes you to the dollar store and tells you to fill the cart, go crazy! And you spend $50 instead of $10. And he just laughs with glee.

Oh God, I genuinely enjoy Dad Level Excesses. And I am intimidated and put off by anything more.

At 43 years old, have I just decided that Pinnacle Fun involves being all of my friends’ 22 year old daughter?

Is that sad or good? I can’t tell. I feel like it’s fine, but somebody will inevitably tell me to aim for higher, off the chain fun — or that I benefit from some level of privilege because I know a few men in their fifties who happen to not be suffering all the time.

It may also be the conversation. But who can’t have a great conversation after two piña coladas and guac?

I’ve decided that it’s fine and that the next person who wants to take me to PF Chang’s for dinner and order appetizers and dessert is welcome to do so. They have gluten free.