Tuesday, December 14, 2010

ADVENTure is out there!

Let me begin by saying my car is old. Let me follow this fact by saying how much I love my car. My father bought it many years ago with the intention of letting me drive it when I got my license at age 16 and, thus, buying himself a chauffeur to carpool his five younger children around.

I drove it for two years in high school and then left it at home for college, taking it back with me only two of my eight semesters. Once when my sister was driving it, a little gravel flew up and hit the windshield while she and my brother were leaving the boat house after practice. The front window now has a nice scar across the lower part of the window. I think it gives it character. When I graduated college, my parents gave it to me as a graduation gift since I was not living at home at the time and would need transportation for my reporting job.

Today is Day 2 of my car being completely frozen shut. Not only am I not amused, but I am sad. I miss my car. I have to drive to work with my Dad, which I don't mind, but on Thursday he is going to Illinois for business and then I will need my car to open sesame or else ...I may not be able to get myself to work! I don't mind snow or cold but ice is a whole nother monster. I had to salt the back steps last night after work because I didn't want my mother coming home from work at the hospital only to return as a patient. (Or anyone, for that matter!)

Today is the feast day of St. John of the Cross, a mystic and Doctor of the Church, who came from poverty and suffering, learning to love God through hardship, and thus finding beauty and knowledge. His most famous book is Dark Night of the Soul, is a Christian classic for good reason. It is the treatise he wrote based on a poem he also wrote, of the same title, about faith in God when one is feeling loneliness, despair and spiritual dryness. St. John of the Cross argues that it is the very hardships one experiences that brings one closer to God and helps one grow in spiritual maturity. In it, he wrote, "Spiritual persons suffer great trials from the fear of being lost on the road and that God has abandoned them… Their soul was taking pleasure in being in that quietness and ease, instead of working with its faculties."

Well, I can relate. I am not going through a "dark night of the soul" by any means, but it is the third week of Advent and I am feeling a lull. Perhaps it is because I am always cold. Perhaps it is because I now have a cold. Or perhaps this is what it feels like no longer living like I am trying to do all my work in a 24 hour period.

Either way, I am learning more and more in these post-college days not to rely on only myself and my abilities. I come from a family who values independence and I've lately been worried I find more certitude in me than God. St. Augustine said to "pray as if everything depends on God, and work as if everything depends on you." I've struggled to trust God these past few weeks. I'm leaning more towards him now, but perhaps too eagerly, trying to discern his will. I am still puzzled at the clues. And that's okay. I don't really want to know, it's more a curiosity. I like praying for all possibility to delight me. Like learning a foreign language, patience and persistence is key with prayer.

When I was a freshman in college, after an Introduction to Western Religion class, I was asked by a classmate how I can pray the Our Father if I didn't feel it.

"Feel what?" I asked, befuddled by the very question.

"You know," he said, smiling broadly: "When you just feel the power of God coming over you."

A momentary pause and then: "Erm, well, I haven't really 'felt' God a lot," I admitted; then, rushed to explain. "I don't believe because I've felt God in my life," I said. "I mean, I've seen God work in my life, but that's not why I pray to him. I pray the Our Father because God gave us that prayer as a way to speak to him. I know he's always with me, whether or not I feel his presence."

This was then followed by an interesting discussion of tradition prayers vs. free verse. I do not think one is "better" than the other, but I can say this: while I have become much more comfortable praying extemporaneously, I am a big fan of traditional prayers. Why? Because they help me focus more on actually praying than thinking about the words I am going to say. I do not think one needs to "find the right words" anymore than one needs to "feel" God in order to pray. God already knows what is in our hearts. Prayer should happen especially when one does not "feel like it."

There are a lot of things I don't feel like doing: if I had my way, I would probably be sleeping upwards of 12 hours a day, opposed to my usual 6-7. I don't feel like going out in the cold everyday, but must if I want to get to work. I don't usually even feel like eating lunch when I'm in the middle of working, but must if I am to stay productive. I think the same applies to religion and faith. Catholics are required to go to Mass every Sunday, whether they feel like it or not. Catholics are required to go to Confession at least once a year, whether they feel like it or not. I am Catholic because I accept the Christian mystery, dogmas, and history as fact and truth.

Which brings me back to Advent: I don't feel like it.

Hm? the readers ask vaguely, what don't you feel like?

It, I reply stubbornly. The whole season. Having my car freeze shut. The constant salting of our steps. The never-ending cleaning for company. Which can all seem like a bother until you read the brilliant G. K. Chesterton, who wrote, "An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered."

Which makes me say: Ahhhh. Well, yes.

If I didn't have to salt the steps, I wouldn't get to hear the cracks and hisses of the salt breaking up the ice, which is pretty cool. Because my car is frozen, I get to attach my mom's hairdryer to several extension cords and attempt to thaw the locks-- now seriously, when else am I going to have a reason to do that? Life is going to happen either way; whether or not one enjoys it is entirely up to the individual.

Chesterton also wrote, "When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude."

For Christmas this year- inspired by Fr. Bob's homily last Sunday and spearheaded by my second brother Bobby- the six siblings are compiling a list of positive virtues we like about each other, our parents and our grandparents as a sort of collaborative present for everyone. For example, if we were going to compile a list for Santa Claus, it would be something like: Jolly, Happy, Giving, Hard Working. Wouldn't you rather get something like that than another sweater?!

Advent is a good time to reflect and get the dust bunnies out of the corners. Just as Jesus came into this world out of Love, we're called to show even more compassion in this season as another way to honor him. That isn't just giving more money to the Church or charities, or donating time or canned goods or collecting hats and gloves; I'm convinced this world isn't suffering from the unkindness of stranger or neighbors as much as it is lacking in love in people.

My baby sister is in the sixth grade and the stories she tells me about the kids in her class make me shake my head, hug her close and tell her that people are much better when they grow up, which is sometimes true. A girl from my high school told me she appreciates that we can discuss LGBT issues without anger or rancor and is glad that a conservative Catholic and a liberal Agnostic could be chummy. True charity is nothing without love, in whatever form it manifests: actions, words and/ or thoughts.

I'm still making some of my family's Christmas presents... okay, all of them. Some will be bought. Some will rhyme. Others will involve puffy paint and/ or crayons and/ or colored pencils! Friends are getting Christmas cards, with the exception of a few people like Bear, whose Christmas present is also her birthday present, which I am woefully behind in finishing. She'll love it once I'm done, but making presents is such a process! --And such an adventure: I've learned so much about my strengths and weaknesses during Arts and Crafts time! I'm not even a huge holiday gift-giver: I usually give books to friends "just because" and not around any particular special date. It adds an element of surprise!

Back to editing galley proofs. Enjoy your Tuesday! Gaudete!

(Ten Julie points if you know where the title of this post and the above picture are from immediately!)

1 comment: