Friday, 10 February 2017

What PMS is Really Like


Ugh I'm hungry. I desperately need chips. Right. Now. Why am I so hungry? And why are there no chips in the house? There is NOTHING in this house to eat!!!!! DOES EVERYBODY HATE ME? Oh let me check the date. Yes indeed, PMS it is. Or is it? Maybe this is normal me. Let's keep track through this day. Hunger? Out of proportion irritability? Unexpected tears? Check, check, check. 

(Buy stash of chips. And chocolate.)

Unexpected setbacks/interruptions occur during the day: THIS IS SO FRUSTRATING! (RAGE) Okay. Calm down. You're over reacting. But I'm MAD!!! Aaarghh!!

(Deep breaths. Send message to friends to ask them to pray for me to survive the day. Pray a dramatic psalm calling on heaven to aid me. God responds by sending unexpected chocolates.)

I can do this. It's just PMS. Just because it FEELS like everything is sad and depressing and overwhelming doesn't mean it really is. Get a grip.

(Sigh angrily/stalk past/morosely ignore anyone who has the misfortune to be in my sphere. Expletives rise to the surface of my brain again and again. Some escape.)


Okay, Sue, stop acting like a jackass. Fake it till you make it.

(Eat chips)

I'm tired. And mad. And everything feels vaguely depressing. I should sleep. But I'm depressed so I can't. I know, I'll look at Facebook. Again. People I may know.. Who the heck are these people? Why do they look so boring? Why do most Indians have such terrible profile pics? OHMYGOD why does this idiot have those dog ears and nose? What the heck is wrong with these people? Facebook is SO boring!!!

(Eat chocolate)


Friend texts to ask if I want to go for a walk. Ugh. I just can't. I can't do anything.

I hate my life. Only I don't. This is PMS speaking. Don't forget!!! I don't know what to do. Maybe I'll just lie in bed and check Facebook again. OHMYGOD WHY IS MY PHONE RINGING??!!

(Answer phone and pretend to act like a normal human being.)

(Eat more chocolate.)

Watching 'About Time' (time travel rom-com): This makes no sense! So many plot holes. But oh.. (tears) it's about valuing each day because each moment is precious especially when you have a sweet little family of your own.. Which I don't.. (INTJ brain intrudes) although you're probably so sleep-deprived when you have babies that it's hard to appreciate how precious each moment is, so I guess I'm not missing that much.. Plus I do have a family.. BUT DO I REALIZE HOW PRECIOUS EVERY MOMENT IS WITH MY PARENTS NO I DON'T WASTING THIS PRECIOUS LIFE. Ugh get some sleep, Sue.

(Go to sleep late because I'm mad and sad, and repeat the next day.)

Thank God this only happens once a month.

[Okay this is slightly exaggerated for dramatic effect. But not that much. Some people think this is a private topic. But I think this is an act of service to men everywhere (and women who don't get it like this.) We don't really hate you. It's just PMS.]

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Trump, Internet Wars, and Things Falling Apart

Years ago I had to read a book called 'Things Fall Apart' by Chinua Achebe, which I actually don't remember at all except for the title, and a little bit of the poem that the title came from: The Second Coming by W.B. Yeats.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

I feel a bit like that today. Is Trump really the president of the United States of America? Are there really people who think he's basically a good guy with bad press, and is going to make everything better? Are there really people who think all Muslims are potential terrorists, that the risk of terrorists or drug peddlers justifies turning away homeless and desperate refugees? Yes, I know some of those people.


But then can it still be possible that there are people who deny the personhood of an unborn baby, and think anyone who is anti-abortion must be anti-women? People who think the burden of nine months of pregnancy is too much to expect any woman to HAVE to pay in exchange for the life of a baby? People who think you can criminalize those who commit infanticide, but not those who perform abortions? Yes, I know some of those people.


And yet, when I go online and start reading people's feelings and thoughts and opinions and stories, and follow Internet wars on different issues, things can seem blurry. Sometimes it just makes me think everyone is crazy, especially when I read comments (the dregs of the Internet). But often it gives me empathy- I can understand why people believe those things. Often out of fear, insecurity, and from buying into strident angry memes, blogs and articles. Out of a particular belief so strong that everything else seems unimportant, or a distraction. Or out of an emotional reaction to a bad experience from their own past. Or often out of an unwillingness to judge, or fear of identifying with fringe elements. And very likely (maybe subconsciously) out of a need to seem politically-correct to your world, to 'your' people, the team you identify with. Our view of how people perceive us can influence so much.

So then is nothing true? Or is everything? When the people you identify with fail you, or seem to have blind spots, and the people on the other side have good points, even while stridently rejecting truths you believe in, whom can you trust? How can you live with this constant stream of argument, debate, invective, and varying perspectives on EVERY possible issue? What can you hold on to when everything and everyone seems to be going crazy?


1. You could dig in your heels, go with the dehumanizing of every perspective that is not your team's perspective, and mock or demonize the other side mercilessly. (I don't recommend this.)

2. You could read as much as you can, and make up your mind on every issue. But this is exhausting, and you could still be wrong. You're limited, and you could very likely be wrong- plenty of people must be.

3. You could ignore everything that makes you uncomfortable, say it doesn't affect you, and lose yourself in one of the many forms of escape our world provides- hours of  TV shows, or Dota, or food, or career goals, or making more money, or spending more money, or playing or watching sports. There's something for everyone.

4. You could pick ONE principle by which you measure all opinions, perspectives, beliefs, and actions, and not only choose where you stand on that issue based on the ONE principle, but live your life according to that ONE principle.

I choose the fourth way (even though imperfectly), and the ONE principle I choose is LOVE. But how do I guard against counterfeit versions of love? One could say all they live by is love, when they mean the warm but fleeting feeling they get that could lead them to pet a puppy, but condone infidelity, perform a random act of kindness, but go back to a selfish, materialistic lifestyle. How do you know whether authentic love should lead you to support gay marriage, or defend the truth that every child needs a mother and a father? How do you know whether authentic love should lead you to tell women with crisis pregnancies to consider abortion, or to warn them about how traumatic abortions can be for them, that they are already mothers, and that you will love and support them through pregnancy, and after the baby is born too?


There is an answer. Love is not just a principle, but a Person. He has a name and a face. He is both Love and Truth. Because those two things go together. Love without truth isn't love, and truth without love isn't truth. Jennifer Fulwiler wrote a great piece 'Good People, Bad People, Truth and Lies':

Without God — or, to phrase it another way, without objective truth — we are sailors without a compass, trying to rely on gut instinct to navigate troubled waters. It might work out some of the time, as is evidenced by the number of nonbelievers who are indeed “good people” most of the time. But it leaves us vulnerable to the legion forces that try to steer us off course, and it makes it almost impossible to weather a great storm. If we don’t know the truth about who we are, why we’re here, where we came from and where we’re going, we’re on shaky ground to begin with; and when we deny the existence of objective truth on matters of what is good and bad, what is right or wrong, we lose control of our own lives. [Read the rest here.]

He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:17

IN JESUS, ALL THINGS HOLD TOGETHER.


Everything is falling apart- families, nations, morality, political systems, our sense of security, and peace of mind. Nobody can say that our world is doing well. But I believe that if we cling to Him, cling to love; hold on to Him, hold on to love; if we regularly evaluate and change our lives and our beliefs by holding them up to His standards, then in the midst of the craziness, we're going to be okay. Because only the things done for love and in Love will survive. Everything else WILL pass away. Trump will pass away. Everything we build our lives on, consider valuable, argue about, and fight for will pass away. Except love. It is only when we lose touch with God, that it's easy to lose touch with truth, and often with love.


So that means taking time off from the constant stream of news and opinions on the Internet and TV to BE with the One who is Love. When's the last time you were really quiet? No phone, no Facebook scrolling, no taking in of new information? Choosing to know Him means choosing the silence of prayer each morning. It means allowing Him to calm my mind, and to give me clarity and courage and love. It means choosing love in my daily interactions with the people around me. It means speaking the truth at the right time, even strongly and passionately, but ALWAYS lovingly and courteously.

Love does win in the end. In the meanwhile, let's keep fighting the good fight.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Dr. Beth on the Chronic Singleness Disorder


Dr. Beth, 8 (pad and pen in hand): Can you tell me your name and the sickness that you have?

Me: My name is Humility and I suffer from chronic singleness. What can you do for me, Dr. Beth?

Dr. Beth: Well.. I need to ask you. When you watch shows about couples, do you feel sad for yourself, or good for the other person?

Me: I feel good for them, but I also feel bad for myself.

Dr. Beth: Hmm, okay well, I see... I think that's a little... what do you feel more?

Me: Depends on the time of the month.

Dr. Beth (looks confused): Huh?

Me: Never mind. Moving on. What can you do to help me with this problem of chronic singleness?

Dr. Beth: (places a finger on her lips thoughtfully) Well.. (succumbs to a fit of giggles)

Me: Keep going.

Dr. Beth: Okay. I have.. I have sent you, well, not sent you, I am going to put you into a volunteer school to teach kids.

Me: Okay... but what's this got to do with...

Dr. Beth: You'll be working with another teacher..

Me: Oh!

Dr. Beth stops and stares at me, smiling suspiciously.

Me: What's this got to do with my chronic singleness?

Dr. Beth: You'd have to be come friends with the teacher.

Me: Uh huh? Tell me more.

Dr. Beth: (Big smile) He's a male.

Me: Oh, is that a fact?

Dr. Beth: (nodding and smiling self-consciously) Yes.

Me: Is he a good Catholic?

Dr. Beth nods yes.

Me: Does he love the Lord?

Dr. Beth: He's a volunteer!

Me: Oh. Okay. Where do we go from here? Why is he still single? How come there's not a lot of girls already trying to marry him?

Dr. Beth: (shrugs) They don't really care.

Me: Is he not really nice?

Dr. Beth: He's nice! Some girls just don't see it in him. Coz they treat him badly. He's been encountering lots of girls which have been mean to him. But (big smile) I don't think you'll be mean.

Me: Uh.. nooo.

Dr. Beth: So that's why I'm putting friends with him.. with you. So.. well.. um.. yeah..

Me: I thought you had a different plan which involved lots of possible guys.

Dr. Beth: No. Well.. there's a website. And you just told me you wanted to pick someone from a whole guy.. line of guys..

Me: No! What? I didn't say that!

Dr. Beth: Then?

Me: I want to meet them, not just pick them from a website!

Dr. Beth: Ok. So um I'm going to order some guys.. not order but ask them to come here.

Me: How do you find them? I still don't understand that part.

Dr. Beth: It's a website, dear.

Me: How come? There's so many nice girls out there. How come they haven't met any of those nice girls?

Dr. Beth: (Shrugs) I dunno. How am I supposed to know other persons' personalities?

Me: Tell me about that whole personality thing. You were telling me something about personalities. Like, that's how you found them?

Dr. Beth: What?

Me: You said something like you checked my personality and then you checked their personality...?

Dr. Beth: Yes. (Picks up Mother Teresa peg doll) Mother Teresa here, she put everything on my... (pause) something that you put into the computer, and it helps.

Me: Like a USB?

Dr. Beth: Huh?

Me: Like a flashdrive?

Dr. Beth: Yeah, a flashdrive. So, uh, it stores everything, and then I have a website, everyone has their website, of um, Look For Me. The website is called Look For Me. (Big smile, pleased with herself.)

Me: Really? Lookformedotcom?

Dr. Beth: Yes! Have you looked at it?

Me: I have not looked at it as yet.

Dr. Beth: I'll download it for you. So Mother Teresa here has downloaded all your information, just by kissing you on the cheek.

Me: Wow. Impressive.

Dr. Beth: I know. She's very cool. Thank you. Yes. So, as I was saying, you will need to... (long pause)

Me: That's it?

Dr. Beth: You'll have to come to me tomorrow at 2.

Me: Thank you.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

What To Do When Things Don't Go Your Way


Everyone assumes everyone else has got it together and they are the only ones suffering. But the more I live (not so subtle reference to my wisdom-laden thirty years), the more I find that we are not alone, that the human condition is really pretty similar.

The particular human situation I refer to is that of disappointment, or major setbacks in life, of dreams that come tumbling down, or life just not turning out the way you thought it was going to. Either this sounds like an overused homily to you, or you know exactly what I'm talking about, because you are going through it right now.

You did everything right, you worked hard, you got your degree, you applied for jobs, you even went for interviews. And yet here you are, unemployed, and waiting, waiting. This was not how life was supposed to turn out. This was not where you thought you would be at this stage of your life.

Or you were working on your dream project, the culmination of your hard work, brainstorming, focus, determination, blood, sweat and tears... It seems inspired by God, you followed His leading... and then CRASH! It all falls flat. It's sabotaged, destroyed. It's all gone down in flames and you can't understand why. Why?

Or you were in a relationship that seemed like IT, the one you were waiting for your whole life. Everything seemed right, all the signs seemed to point to this being The One. You looked ahead, and said "Yes. I think I'm ready to say forever." And then something changed. He didn't want the same thing. She wasn't the person you thought she was. Family interfered. And he accepted it. And now you're alone, all those dreams crashing and burning.

Or you found the person to marry, you went through all the things everyone does- you spent months planning a wedding, receiving the congratulations and well-meaning platitudes from all one hundred and sixty seven of your aunties and cousins and coworkers, you received the gifts, and moved into the new home, and you started this rosy life with so much anticipation... and now it's not what you thought it would be, because of the painful gut-wrenching experience of infertility. Or anxiety. Or depression. Or unfaithfulness. Or a spouse with deep unresolved anger issues.

Or you had it all,  the dream did come true, but then so did unexpected and crippling loss in the form of a miscarriage, or your spouse or a child dying.

Now what?

Where do you go from here? How can you go on when your chest is tight and your stomach hurts and you've forgotten what it feels like to be excited about the future?

Stop comparing. The burden of social expectation is too heavy to bear, and anyway God hasn't even asked you to carry it. Facebook makes it seem like everyone has the thing that you don't- the perfect job, the romantic spouse, the exotic getaways, the picture perfect children, the close, bonding family get-togethers. But you just don't know. Nobody has exactly the life they hoped they would have. So many have hidden sorrows. Each one has their own apportioned sorrows, and their own particular consolations. So you're not left behind. Everyone is at different places, but they have their own journey to make.

Accept that it's okay to feel hurt and confused: I read a beautiful reflection from Bishop Robert Barron about Saint Joseph- 'Joseph had become betrothed to Mary and this union had been blessed by God. And then he finds that his betrothed is pregnant. This must have been an emotional maelstrom for him. And at a deeper level, it is a spiritual crisis. What does God want him to do?' Saint JOSEPH was confused? He must have gone through an EMOTIONAL MAELSTROM??!! If saints can have deep pain and questioning, then we can too. It doesn't mean you need to get your act together. Sometimes it's okay to just feel pain... just allow God to hold you as you pummel his chest and cry your eyes out.


Reject unnecessary guilt, blame and over-analyzing: Pain doesn't mean you messed up.  Pain doesn't have to be someone's fault. Sometimes it is. And if it is, come before God with a contrite heart, beg His (and anyone else's) forgiveness, and move forward. Make the changes you need to get your life back in order. But a LOT of the time, disappointment, suffering, and pain just happen because we live in a broken world, and that's part of the human condition. No matter how much you try, you can't avoid pain. So stop blaming yourself. And stop blaming everyone else.

Okay this one is the hardest:

Don't believe that just because you can't see the big picture. there isn't one: Continuing the Joseph story: 'Then the angel appears to him in a dream and tells him, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.” He realizes at that moment that these puzzling events are part of a much greater plan of God’s. What appears to be a disaster from his perspective is meaningful from God’s perspective.' 

You heard that?

These puzzling events are part of a much greater plan of God’s.

Your particular puzzling and painful event is part of some greater plan of God's. What could it be? Like Tevye sang in Fiddler on the Roof, "Would it spoil some vast, eternal plan, if I were a wealthy man?" Would it spoil some vast eternal plan if I were to get what I want, for my life to play out the way I hoped it would?

Well, that's where you have to take the big leap of faith and say- I am not God. God is God. I don't get it. But I am weak, helpless, with a limited perspective. I've been wrong about many things before. So maybe it's possible I'm wrong in thinking THIS particular outcome was the perfect way my life should have gone. God draws beauty out of brokenness. Sometimes we get glimpses of it- "Oh, THAT'S why You allowed that. How perfect." But sometimes we have to wait a long time to see it.

Choose to hope: Not about the thing that has been left behind, but about the future. Bishop Robert Barron again: "Jesus wants to cast a consuming fire on the earth. Not because he delights in seeing us suffer; rather, he wants to burn away all that is opposed to God’s desire for us. He has to clear the ground before something new can be built." God is doing something in you (if you are allowing Him into your suffering). He is burning away old attachments, dependence on particular outcomes. He is shaking up comfortable notions about the stability of this world, because He wants to give us more than just this world. He has something more, something new! I know, it's hard to believe sometimes.


But if you are a Christian, we DO believe in happy endings. Just not necessarily in the exact way we thought it would be. Bishop Barron: "Christians are basically and irrevocably an optimistic people, believers in the divine comedy—in good times and bad, in success and failure. I always think of Thomas Merton in this context, telling one of his novices to get rid of his long face—and meaning it as a positive command. Christians have no business moping around...the overwhelmingly good news is that we have been saved through the mighty power of God, and that's the reason why we are an essentially joyful people."

Allow yourself to be led: Bishop Barron: 'Joseph was willing to cooperate with the divine plan, though he in no way knew its contours or deepest purpose. Like Mary at the annunciation, he trusted and let himself be led.' Now what? Now seek Him. Spend time in silent prayer, in an Adoration chapel. Lay it all before Him, and ask HIM the question: "Now what?" He will not only quiet your heart, and the loud voices shouting that this is a disaster, that this suffering is too much, that you can't handle it. But He will also guide. He promised to. Should you make a change, start something new, take a new direction? Should you get help? It may not be a voice from heaven, or dreams and visions like for Saint Joseph. It may even be just circumstances changing, doors closing, other ones opening. But He will show you. Let go of the resentment, the resistance, and go with the flow.


Build your life on the truth that God alone suffices: 'Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you, All things are passing away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices.'  -St. Teresa of Avila. Can it be true? That as good and beautiful as the many joys of this world are- successful projects, the intimacy of a happy marriage, the satisfaction of raising a family, of seeing the fruit of your hard work, a steady paycheck and a fulfilling job... all those things are passing away. And nothing will remain but love, and the God of Love. So don't hold on too tightly to the things that pass. One thing remains. And if He is all that we have for the rest of our earthly lives, He is more than enough.

I'm praying for all those of you who are going through a hard time this month. 

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Movie Reviews: Jane Eyre and Fantastic Beasts


I've reached the stage of my life where I don't want to be bothered with a movie unless I know it's going to be good. And I'm kind of picky- I want the acting to be good, the plot and dialogue engaging, not too much action, not too slow, not glamorizing sin, not depressing, but not too fluffy, the list goes on. This one was everything I hoped it would be. Why, yes this IS high praise from me,

The best thing about this 2011 British Jane Eyre was Mia Wasikowska. She was understated, subtle, and so believable as Jane- a deep thinker, an old soul.

But but but... JANE EYRE WAS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE ATTRACTIVE. C'mon guys, can we have ONE movie with a plain female protagonist? She was supposed to be plain! That was part of the charm of the book- these two plain characters, misfits in some ways, not attractive (and in her case not valuable) in the eyes of the world- and yet with a love that made those things irrelevant.

Anyway.

Guess what? Edward Fairfax Rochester was played by young Erik Lehnsherr! I mean Michael Fassbender. So weird to see him in this role, and yet he was so good too!

And Dame Judi Dench played the housekeeper, so odd to see her in a supporting role.

No 2 hour movie is ever going to satisfy fully someone who loves the book. I wish they hadn't skipped the whole Rochester dressing as an old gypsy and reading Jane's face. But I guess we can't have everything.

I was very pleased to see that one of the best lines of the book stayed, and was said with just as much heart wrenching passion as the book demanded:

“Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! - I have as much soul as you, - and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you!”

And also that at the great wrenching moment that she held herself away from him because of what she believed to be right, they DID leave in the source of her strength as she cried out, "God help me!" Because of course as I wrote earlier, her faith was such an important part of the story.

Anyway, loved it, you should watch it. I only wish it had been longer, and with an epilogue.

(Fun fact: There are EIGHT Jane Eyre films already made with the earliest in 1910, and the latest, this one, in 2011.)



Well, let's get down to the movie review you REALLY came here for- Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

My sister and I watched the trailer, and were instantly charmed- 1920s Britisher visits 1920s America and plunges into 1920s wizarding world. So fun! We were especially charmed by the awkward protagonists- both Newt Scamander, but also Tina Goldstein.

But then I watched the movie, and though I did enjoy it, it left a lot to be desired. I supposed basically it needed to be a book, to fill in the details, to make the characters more familiar and beloved. We liked them, but didn't really get to know them well. Tina looked stressed out THE ENTIRE MOVIE. The first time we saw her smile I think was in the last scene. Newt rarely looked us in the eye. Yes, I get that he's the offbeat animal crazy adventurer, but I still didn't feel like I knew him by the end, except for his love for his beasts. (And can I just say that as he yelled 'They're not dangerous' a zillion times... that didn't seem to be strictly truthful?)

Also, there was a little too much action and destruction for my taste. I mean it's okay that those things happened, but wouldn't it have been nicer to include more dialogue-rich scenes like the dinner at Tina's place instead of so much time wasted chasing various beasts all over New York? Oh well, maybe I wasn't the target audience.

Still, in spite of all that, I appreciate a new world of imagination to plunge into, and am excited that it's part of a trilogy, so two more movies to look forward to.

Side note: I occasionally stumble upon the Harry Potter fandom- and it seems a little over the top. I mean I understand- you loved the books and the movies, you've re-read and re-watched them a zillion times, and it feels so good to feel like you belong to this world of people who feel the same way. But I feel like there is a line between heartily enjoying a fictional world, and losing track of reality as that world becomes your main identity. Sounds like an escape from reality to me. There's a big, fascinating, even magical world out here in the real world guys! Come on over!

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Thoughts on Re-reading Jane Eyre


--1--

With what high sounding words did the characters express love! It almost makes one choose to do likewise after several hours of reading this piece of literature from yesteryear.

Behold, for example, these impassioned words spoken by Mr. Rochester to our little Jane, the first words that revealed his tenderer feelings for her, the night she saved him from being burnt in his bed by his SPOILER ALERT mad wife.

"I knew," he continued, "you would do me good in some way, at some time;-- I saw it in your eyes when I first beheld you: their expression and smile did not"- (again he stopped)- "did not" (he proceeded hastily "strike delight to my very inmost heart so for nothing. People talk of natural sympathies; I have heard of good genii: there are grains of truth in the wildest fable. My cherished preserver, goodnight!"

Let's put that in simpler modern-day English.

"I thought love was only true in fairytales, meant for someone else but not for me. Then I saw your face, now I'm a believer! Not a trace of doubt in my mind. I'm in love, I'm a believer!'

Guys, looking for words to express your love? Give it a try- "Your expression and smile struck delight to my very inmost heart!"


--2--

Well before the day of hookups and make out sessions, Mr. Rochester and Jane showed us that hand-holding can be very romantic, and an even thrilling encounter. No casual hand-holding for them! (Or me.) No stray kisses before love was committed. Physical contact meant a lot.

He held out his hand; I gave him mine: he took it first in one, then in both his own.


---3---

Morality and an awareness of God, a desire to do what is right in the eyes of God was a major turning point in the novel, not something you would expect from most literature today, except third rate horribly written Christian romance novels. I can't imagine most people agreeing that Jane made the right decision, SPOILER ALERT denying herself the joy of loving and being loved and fleeing Mr. Rochester when she found he had a mad wife.

Her inner struggle was fascinating to me, because she was tempted for sure, but I love the point where she says, "I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, not mad- as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation; they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual conscience I might break them, what would be their worth? They have a worth- so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane- quite insane; with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs. Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all I have at this hour to stand by: there I plant my foot."

Wow. In the age of 'if it feels good, do it', who has that kind of inner strength? And yet her struggle has been experienced by us all at some point. If my God allows me to do what I want when I want and how I want it, and never demands of me anything hard, then my god is ME and my selfish whims.

---4---

But of course, as I often do when I get engrossed in fictional stories of unhappy marriages, I ask myself like any good Catholic INTJ would- 'Would he have grounds for an annulment?' And I breathe a sigh of relief when I realize that in this case, there are the clearest grounds for annulment I've ever read. He was pressured into this marriage, information about the mental health (not to mention age) of his prospective wife was hidden from him, he was told that his mentally ill mother in law was dead.. I'm no canon lawyer, but that does NOT sound like a valid marriage. Phew!

(Just FYI, as a Catholic I believe that if a couple freely make a lifetime commitment to each other, they are in fact bound for a lifetime to each other. An annulment is not a 'Catholic divorce', but a marriage being declared invalid (that it was never a real marriage) because there was some element missing when the vows were made- like one or both were forced into the marriage, some important information was hidden, one or both did not really plan to be open to children, etc.)

---5---

As I read Jane Eyre, I was reminded that the details of attraction and falling in love don't really change from culture to culture, and age to age. There is the acute awareness of where the other person is placed in a room at any given moment, there is observation of the other person's every passing mood, and inferences made in one's mind about the why and wherefore of every fleeting expression, there is a strong resolution not to make it obvious that one is observing, especially if one is not assured of the other person's affections, there is much pondering and reflecting on the character of the other person, there is pleasure taken in the smallest sign of affection, as there is in knowing that one has the power to make this beloved happy. Amirite? (Or is this just INTJ romance?)

---6---

And although there is much that is easy to identify with, the dramatic elements of Jane Eyre are hysterical. SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS, A mad wife! Who laughs maniacally, and attacks, and bites, and drinks the blood of the one she bites. The madwoman ripping the veil in half the night before her husband is supposed to be married to another. A wedding stopped at exactly the point where the priest says "If any of you has reasons why these two should not be married, speak now or forever hold your peace" (well, the fancier version of those words). The mansion being burned down. Supernatural communications between lovers. So dramatic, and yet so enjoyable.

Okay, I'm done.

Monday, 12 September 2016

The Time I Went on a Five Day Silent Retreat

You'd assume for a self-identifying introvert, a five day silent retreat would have been super easy but those who know me, know that I am an externally processing introvert who talks nineteen to the dozen. And yet... five days of silence was very beautiful.

This retreat was an answer to prayer- for about six months I had felt God was telling me : 
I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
Isaiah 43: 19a
"Great! I'm all for it," I told Him. "But I have no idea what that new thing is."

Of course a part of me was like, "Vocational fulfilment! Yay!" But that's just every Catholic single who think they are called to marriage.

He was like, "You'll see."

And I did.

The past week I felt like He was opening a door in my journey with Him, and saying, "We're not there yet. Let's go." What He said was so full of light and truth that it overshadowed every other desire and goal and dream for my life.


What am I talking about? There is no way I can share with you everything that I learned, and most likely even if I did, coming from a blog post it probably won't mean much to you. What I really want is for you to go on this silent retreat and find out for yourself, as you sit before the Blessed Sacrament chapel, the glass walls giving you a glimpse of hovering eagles at eye level, the river far below meeting the sea in the distance, as you listen to a Carmelite priest speak words of SOLID truth, practical wisdom, and poetic sweetness, revealing the heart of the God who desires to be known by you- as taught by Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross.

The second part of that bible verse was:
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
...I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people,
 the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.
Isaiah 43: 19b-21
And the retreat was all about the river, the streams of living water which is the Presence of God coming to meet us in contemplation.

These are three insights that impacted me big time:

1. Any sensory pleasure I take that uses up hours and days of my life dulls my senses to God in prayer. I’m an obsessive TV serial watcher. I think I have an addictive personality. Luckily I don’t have TV in my volunteer post, but every time I go home, I binge watch hours and hours of some show or the other. Years ago it was LOST. It has been Downton Abbey, Gray’s Anatomy, The Mentalist, Castle, 24, House. Most of my life (until the Internet) I was a voracious reader, I could read for hours every day, and late into most nights. My latest obsessive behaviour has been reading Facebook comment threads from Simcha Fisher, one of my favourite Catholic bloggers. Her posts, and the comments that follow are witty, insightful, and thought-provoking- a feast for a Catholic INTJ’s mind. It all seems harmless, especially if the content of my latest obsession is clean, and it doesn’t interfere with my daily duties.

But this was the point- if my prayer is lifeless and dull, if I’ve lost my taste for prayer, it’s because my intellect and memory are constantly caught up in those pleasures. I am caught up in self-gratification, rather than being able to open myself to loving God and my neighbour in the present moment. The Lord is like, “If you allow those things to satisfy you, then where is there room for ME to satisfy you?” It’s like eating popcorn throughout the day, and when the feast arrives, you don’t have an appetite for it. So painful as it may seem, God is asking me to cut out some of my ‘harmless’ sensory pleasures… so I can relearn to take pleasure in His presence.

The cool thing was that actually happened at the retreat- I had never felt more joyful, peaceful and excited to just sit with Him in the chapel at random moments.


2. The way to go deeper in prayer isn’t some new meditation technique or effort at focus, but the way of charity, humility, detachment and ‘stealing moments’ of silence. Fr. A, who led the retreat was very clear- charity, the attitude that allows me to accept my brother or sister as he or she is, without judgment or analysis, is ESSENTIAL to experience God. Love cuts through my ego, my self-centredness, my judgment and makes a way for God to break through, and touch my deepest, innermost self. Saint Teresa of Avila said that the only sign that shows progress in prayer is that you accept your brother or sister in community. And love of course isn’t a sweet feeling, but a decision, and even a struggle- but a struggle that purifies. Only love can liberate me from ego. And a handy tip that helps me love people in spite of the way they treat me is: ‘There is no event that takes place without the knowledge of God.’ And therefore he has allowed this person, this event, this circumstance for some greater good- usually my own growth.

3. If my soul wants to be like a watered garden, I need to use the drip irrigation method, plus a morning and night watering: If I really want to grow in prayer, I MUST make time to meet Him not just once in the day, but for a chunk of time at the beginning and at the end, and frequently throughout the day, even for a few minutes at a time- singing hymns, practising the presence of God, doing an examen, just saying a few words of love. As most people who know me probably know, I’m one of the laziest people alive. Sloth in particular is my besetting sin- laziness in spiritual matters. I do the bare minimum. If I’m praying once a day, I think I’m doing GREAT. And yet, something has changed with this retreat. As Fr. A said, “You don’t have to do it. I can’t tell you you have to. But if you have a desire for God, you can do it!” And I can. If I can make time to check Facebook through the day, surely I can make time to turn my gaze to the Beloved.

There was SO much more. But I’m going to stop. You should go for this retreat. Seriously. If you live in India, take a week off and go. Leave me your email in the comments or contact me if you want details. Really. Do it.