Press Pause: Embracing the Silence

“Where will the word be found, where will the word

Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence”

~ T.S. Eliot, “Ash Wednesday”

As I begin to type out these first few words, I have what feels like a million other tasks pulling and poking at me from all sides, demanding my attention. This might be how I can tell that winter break is nearing its end, and in just a few days I’ll be back at school gearing up for another semester. Besides that, I’ll be trying to plan for the future and keep to a healthy social, spiritual, and writing schedule. Blech. That’s a lot of stuff for one brain to handle.

Sometimes it’s easy to feel like my bushes outside, getting blown back and forth by heavy winds.

This is especially jarring to me in the first few weeks of 2017, as one of my goals for the new year (I don’t really like the term resolutions because it’s not like you can flip a switch on January 1st and magically do everything you said you would the night before, but I still like making a list of goals to work on through the coming year… it feels like more of a process this way) was to structure my productivity. I would write a little every day, set aside a set amount of time for relaxation every day, etc…. yeah, nice try, past self.

Life always gets in the way. I tell myself I’m going to listen for God in the silence and then totally suck at managing time, so it turns out that I can’t find any quiet times before I’m too tired to keep my eyes open. Wake up in a fog, repeat. It’s a real drain.

Knowing that everyone feels like this doesn’t necessarily make it any better. What can we do to actually find the silence and embrace it and maybe carry it around with us throughout our days?

About a month and a half ago, on a seemingly normal Friday afternoon just like this one, I had a special experience during adoration. Well, all my experiences there are special, but this one in particular stands out to me. I was sitting in front of the Blessed Sacrament, praying, simply meditating on what it was like to actually be in God’s presence, breathing in the incense, letting the rest of the world fall away. This was towards the end of the semester, so I probably had three papers and two exams and also an entire magazine breathing down my neck. But they didn’t matter in those moments. I was entirely with Jesus. Every time, even if I only stay for ten minutes (which is never ideal, but sometimes what my schedule allows), I come away feeling healed and loved. Fulfilled. It’s the sweetest feeling in the world.

I remember looking around and realizing that there were only about three or four other people there, including the priest, in the entire chapel. Now, my college is a tiny Catholic school and most of the students there identify as Catholic. Why weren’t more people taking advantage of this opportunity?? (I realize now it probably has more to do with the fact that some people have classes on Friday afternoons and simply can’t make it to the one hour of adoration that’s offered around noon even if they want to. But in the moment, it seemed like a grave injustice).

At some point, tears started pouring out of my eyes, so overcome was I with emotion. I just felt so loved, so treasured, so close to the world’s source of goodness. I had to go out and share this feeling with the world. I wished desperately that I could, but it seemed somehow beyond me. Like it was a joyful burden too heavy to lift.

Because in our culture, when people start talking about God, they hear proselytizing. They imagine closed minds obsessed with other people’s sins, political debates about gay marriage and abortion and whatever other issues you can imagine that turn into screaming matches. Many people have had bad experiences. But maybe, if we could get past that somehow, if more people experienced this kind of peace, the rest of it would fall away. Maybe that’s the first step.

I don’t mean to say that cultural issues aren’t important or that Christians should keep their religion out of politics. To suggest so would ignore how faith forms conscience and opinions. But whatever you’re worrying about, Jesus is bigger than it. He transcends your ideology, whether liberal or conservative. He doesn’t need them. He shows himself to us in smaller, more personal ways. He breaks down your walls and makes you cry and hugs you as you melt into a quivering mass of goo.

I wish we talked about God in those terms: if you look for Him, He will bring you peace. Just sit in the silence and listen for His voice. Keep your heart open.

Maybe if more people took the time to be silent, our world would be a little less sharp, painful, hateful. Maybe we could bring back love.

Soon after that day, on my last night on campus for the fall semester, while trying to study for my English exam the next morning, I discovered this song by a band called Over the Ocean. I think it describes what I mean pretty well.

 

Do I Dare?

Maybe summertime sadness isn’t just a line in a song. I feel it most intensely when I wake up on Sunday mornings, in a colorless, thoughtless fog, wanting to return to unconsciousness and drift through the rest of the week. Now, as summer approaches its brightly burning end, I do this with an eye toward the handful of days remaining until I return to school. Soon, Sundays will no longer signify sadness. But today does, because I am at home and something is missing. There’s no sanctification, no distinction between this day and the other six, no special family time. Everything is out of whack. I feel like a time traveler from the 1930s who ended up here and is standing, shocked, at the world’s sheer indifference to the states of their souls. No matter how long and hard I stare, though, I can’t seem to make the people around me care. I’ve tried and tried, and the only thing I trust that will help them is prayer.

Being human, and despite my desire not to, I fear, or get nervous about, many things. That I’m actually sabotaging my relationships and attempts at happiness. That I’m not following God’s will for my life, that I’m not strong enough to do so. That I’ll be alone for all my life. That I’ll never get to see my favorite bands in concert. That I just have so many ideas scattered around my head that I’ll never get to see them all through, or even organize them into a list with which to start. Sometimes I even feel guilty about writing, despite the fact that it might be the only thing at which I might have a reasonable amount of talent. What if I’ve been spending all these hours, all this energy typing away for nothing? What if no one ever reads a word of anything I’ve written?

T.S. Eliot famously asked in his well-known poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, “Do I dare/disturb the universe?/in a minute there is time/for decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.” I’ve had moments where I question my motivations and wonder if I really should say the thing that weighs on me. Is it worth the disaster that will follow? In those moments I do believe, faced with my own inadequacy, that “I should have been a pair of ragged claws/Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.”

Part of why poetry is so beautiful is its universal power. It is easy to live in our heads like Prufrock and assume that nothing we could say, however important the revelation, is worth the risk of rejection. It is easy to say that we are insignificant. Nothing we could ever do would matter. Yes, we are physically insignificant when we think about the universe. We are tiny next to the ocean and the mountains, dangerously unpredictable compared to the change of the seasons and each sunrise and sunset, imperfect next to the rhythm of nature.

But perhaps everything we do is spiritually paramount. Like flicking a finger into water, causing ripples that get larger until we can’t see them, so each action, each smile, each kind word, each prayer, darts around like a ball in a pinball machine and strikes the next obstacle. With each breath, each word, we disturb the universe, the status quo. And perhaps, even more than the risk of rejection, I fear never disturbing the universe at all. I fear never meaning more to another soul than that one girl they knew a long time ago. I fear never provoking a thought, or moving someone. I fear that I will not disturb the way things are.

So I guess I dare, with each breath.

The Glue

I don’t know about you, but I tend to mentally roll my eyes when stores and chain restaurants refer to me as their ‘friend’ in business communication or rewards programs. I understand the business’ motivation; they want to come off as cheery, warm and inviting. But in real life, when I leave that establishment, the CEO of whatever company isn’t my friend. I don’t know any CEOs personally. My friends know things about me that strangers don’t, and some know me better than others. I’ve told some friends things I thought I’d never tell a soul, and they’ve done the same with me. This kind of trust isn’t just a nice thing; it’s the foundation of any kind of interpersonal relationship.

It’s become fashionable in our culture to speak of marriage as just a piece of paper. Why go through the hassle of planning and paying for an elaborate ceremony, the argument goes, when we could just live together for an indefinite amount of time until everyone just acknowledges that we’re basically married? We know that we love each other and that’s all that matters. Alternatively, why should we waste all that money when half of modern marriages end in divorce? Why do we have to get the government involved in the first place, anyway? In the end, all we’ll have that we didn’t have before is a tax benefit.

Personally, especially with the rise of the gay rights movement and many conservatives’ opposition to gay marriage, I don’t think the government should be doing any of the nuptial officiating. Just get the state out of our private lives altogether, whether we’re gay or straight, and make the choice to commit to each other the personal and religious character it deserves. But I don’t mean to get sidetracked here. The high divorce rates of the past few decades provide the evidence: when powerful, intimate relationships (romantic or platonic; I used the word ‘powerful’ to demonstrate just how those with whom we connect can reflect on and influence us, even can create new life) are treated as nothing more than contracts in which one party provides payment for some service the other party performed or good the other party delivered, and can be ended at any time for no reason, they unravel. There’s no glue to hold them together. Love, to me, does not keep score.

For example, I will never be able to repay my parents for what they have done for me. They, as well as the eternal grace of God, are the reasons I am walking around on this earth and typing out these words at right this very moment. But their care for me didn’t stop when I came out of my mother. She didn’t look at her frail little baby and say, “Okay, you rented out my body for five months, now fend for yourself and repay me.” My parents fed me, clothed me, and helped me in dozens of other ways for my first eighteen years of life, and they still support me. I try and help them out whenever and however I can, even in small ways, but I recognize, and the three of us understand, that I will never, ever be able to balance out the account of our relationship. They love me, and I love them back, even though we fight sometimes. Perhaps deficit spending, while terrible for the government, is a good philosophy of the soul.

Friendships are also full of give and take, but typically on a much smaller scale. I don’t freak out if my friend down the hall asks to borrow a fork and doesn’t return it for a few days. If my friend buys me dinner (or vice versa), we don’t expect to get paid back somehow. The human connection, in these instances, outweighs the physical goods getting traded.

If I ever get married, and I don’t know that I will (always waiting to see what God has in store for me), I hope that my husband and I will continually love each other despite our various flaws, the way we deserve it. This love can’t be measured or declared in the forms of money or objects. It would just always be present. The stereotype that marriage is boring and unfulfilling after the first few years/kids might make for some average comedies and forgettable commercials, but in the end every day is a choice for that person to whom you made a public as well as a private declaration. It’s not about a piece of paper unless you see it that way, if you’re unwilling to give of yourself and adapt to a new rhythm of life, if you see your spouse as a decoration or a badge or a trophy to display in your social media profiles, as if saying, look, world, I’ve been chosen by this person!

Speaking of social media, while it’s great to connect with people from whom you haven’t heard in a while or who live far away, it can also become an addictive, trivializing force on its own. Soon life revolves around who’s opened your snapchat, counting the minutes it took them to reply, how many likes your Instagram post of last night’s sunset got, analyzing messages in the group chat, feeding your paranoia that everyone is secretly meeting up without you…. It goes on and on and on. Real friendship runs deeper than buttons on a screen. This should be obvious to most people, but I’ve noticed myself falling into the trap. I and no one I know has ever signed any friendship contract that says “I promise to like all of your posts without fail and if I don’t it means I hate your guts.”

Lastly, I will never, ever be able to repay my debt to Jesus, even if I lived a thousand lifetimes. I can do my best to follow Him, but I’ll never be perfect. But even when I screw up, it doesn’t mean that the Lord rescinds His love.

Last fall, I took a political philosophy course, and even though I’m not a political science major, everyone thought I was because I ended up loving it so much. I could probably still have a nice debate about John Locke’s social contract and its relevance to modern political life. I wrote a whole paper on several elements of the original social contract that could get updated, all the while keeping the central ideas of equality and liberty intact and unchanged. My motivation behind the thesis was the idea that treating interpersonal relationships as dealmaking opportunities or simple contracts would be poisonous to all involved.

When you become someone’s child, parent, sibling, friend, spouse, or whatever relationship, you’re no longer dealing in clear-cut figures and facts. It’s not quite like choosing a college or a field of study. You are choosing to become involved in that person’s life, for better or worse, and to leave an imprint on him or her that will remain forever.

I’m doing my best not to need constant reminders that my friends are thinking of me. They know I’m here. And I know they’re there. Let’s spread love, and leave the legalism and contractualism to the law.

 

What the Thunder Said

Well, I guess technically it didn’t say anything, because it only rained today. But this title comes from a fabulous section of T.S. Eliot’s famous poem “The Waste Land.”

As you can see in one of my recent posts, the transition from college back to living at home brings cascades of different emotions. It’s easy to feel terribly alone when your best friends from school live far away and all your friends from home are either on family vacations, otherwise out of state, busy working, or hanging out with all your other friends and acting as if you’re invisible.

That last part hit me hard today. I thought it was going to be a great day; I slept in late and woke up to fresh air and the sound of birds chirping. Finding myself alone in the house, I made some tea and ate breakfast. I read some Flannery O’Connor. Listened to the rain. And then, even though the storm eventually stopped, the waiting game began.

Waiting for what? Waiting for someone to come home, or text me, or snapchat me, or call me, a storm to blow through, a trumpet to call from the heavens. Anything that could be perceived as a form of interested contact. It is still cloudy outside.

Well, I’m typing this post on my couch right now, after I cried and cuddled with my cat because I was watching my family members sleep and feeling terribly alone (now they’re fighting and I’m still sitting in my corner listening to rare demos of my favorite songs on YouTube).

I know that the people I know here aren’t intentionally leaving me on an island. They might just don’t think I’m interested in spending time with them because I tend to be quiet around them. I’m just not the kind of person to insert myself into an already established social circle and lead and ask what everyone wants to do. We have different stories, and I was never super really wicked close with anyone anyway. Still, though, it’s sad that they never reach out to me and put all the blame on me for not trying to be a part of a friendship. To me, any kind of relationship is supposed to have a shared responsibility for connection. Clearly, no one was reaching out to me, so I stopped reaching out to them, knowing that they didn’t want to be around me. This was exacerbated by watching everyone have fun together on social media. Especially when they can’t respond to my texts or snapchats within days, it sends a clear message to me at least, regardless of whether that’s really their intentions.

I know I sound pretty paranoid, but that’s my perspective. I just feel like that if I ever text somebody to hang out or do something, it won’t work out. Past experience has taught me that, and being at school was a totally awesome, welcome change because we were all there together.

I am tired of being a slave to my phone, constantly checking for signs of life even when there’s not a single notification there. I’m tired of feeling like an afterthought. I want my positivity and happiness back. I started reading a list of maxims from one of my favorite saints, Philip Neri. He had one for every day of the year, and even though some of them were harsh, I pray to have humility and joy like him.

So I wrote a daily reminder for myself, and anyone who needs it: you are not an afterthought to Jesus. 

Diving In: Theology of the Body

Yesterday, I began immersing myself in the opening chapters of Christopher West’s Theology of the Body for Beginners, which so far is an extremely helpful guide to Pope John Paul II’s groundbreaking pronouncements on the divine meaning behind the human body and human sexuality. West writes so even idiots like me can understand without having to look up obscure references to other Catholic/Christian documents.

Now, a lot of people might think, “What in the hell can a pope know about sex? He’s a celibate man, etc., etc…”. But TOB isn’t just a collection of rules about sex for Catholic couples. Contrary to popular belief, there aren’t really a lot of those (besides major & obvious teachings like no intentional use of artificial contraception), and most things are left up to prayerful personal discretion. What TOB is is an explanation of how our bodies are holy signs of God’s plan for the universe. I found this really eye-opening. We are “the crown of creation” (pg 19). Our bodies, which come with sometimes inconvenient and inappropriate emotions, are not sinful for existing. We are responsible for how we act on those, of course, but the flesh is not sinful in itself. Our flesh is a holy vessel, as we exist at once in our physical tangible bodies and also in our real eternal souls, and it deserves to be treated as holy. The following is quoted from one of my favorite passages on page 19, at least in my ebook sample:

Most everyone has experienced that deep sense of awe and wonder in beholding a starlit night or a radiant sunset or a delicate flower. In these moments, we are in some way seeing the signs of the presence of God (more accurately, seeing his reflection). “The beauty of creation reflects the infinite beauty of the Creator” (CCC 341). And yet, what is the crown of creation? What more than anything else in God’s creation “speaks” of divine beauty? The answer is man and woman and their call to fruitful communion.”

While I haven’t read the entirety of John Paul’s writings yet, I can sense that they hold insightful applications of divine truth for all men and women, young and old, married or single, all around the world. Too often society – in the media, in expected behavior for both men and women – undervalues and disrespects the sanctity of our bodies, which are inextricably linked to our souls. Too often the world forgets that we are instruments of something greater.