Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wednesday Soup

Oh I think I have shook my head and muttered some form of the word sad more times than I can bear. It seems unreasonable to talk of anything else, close to ridiculous to continue our Merry Christmas greetings and yet we do. Merry Christmas.

There are plenty of words being written about the horror, maybe too many. Maybe it is our only way to enter in and weep with those who weep.

And I am angry. Heaven help us if we ever stop being angry as hell and crying out for change.

A few voices of reason and hope . ..

so I cry again, and I curse, and pray for peace that passes all understanding.
We need the pragmatists with policy , we need the prophets streaked in ash,
We need the God who sees, and God with us. In which we need pragmatists and prophets by Sarah Bessey
Rachel Held Evans, God Can't Be Kept Out -Amen to every word of this.
God can be wherever God wants to be. God needs no formal invitation. We couldn’t “systematically remove” God if we tried. 

Bullshit National Grieving at Huffington Post
Words like senselessinexplicableunimaginable must for now be banned from our grief liturgy about gun violence in this country. For what happened in that elementary school (and on the Chicago streets, etc.)makes sense, can be explained, and is not only imaginable but predictable based on all that has happened before.

Our Moloch at NYR blog
 That horror cannot be blamed just on one unhinged person. It was the sacrifice we as a culture made, and continually make, to our demonic god. We guarantee that crazed man after crazed man will have a flood of killing power readily supplied him. We have to make that offering, out of devotion to our Moloch, our god. The gun is our Moloch. We sacrifice children to him daily—sometimes, as at Sandy Hook, by directly throwing them into the fire-hose of bullets from our protected private killing machines, sometimes by blighting our children’s lives by the death of a parent, a schoolmate, a teacher, a protector. Sometimes this is done by mass killings (eight this year), sometimes by private offerings to the god (thousands this year).

I love Ann Curry's call for 26 Acts of Kindness, and the stories I read of strangers offering kindness to others bring me to tears.

Finally, for one small dose of sheer pleasure, you really must read this incredibly lovely essay: Joy by Zadie Smith New York Review of Books
It might be useful to distinguish between pleasure and joy. But maybe everybody does this very easily, all the time, and only I am confused. A lot of people seem to feel that joy is only the most intense version of pleasure, arrived at by the same road—you simply have to go a little further down the track. That has not been my experience. And if you asked me if I wanted more joyful experiences in my life, I wouldn’t be at all sure I did, exactly because it proves such a difficult emotion to manage. It’s not at all obvious to me how we should make an accommodation between joy and the rest of our everyday lives.

Last weekend I made a little journey around the Lake to visit old friends in Grand Rapids.

It is always so good to spend time with these friends I love, and forty-eight hours of grown-up conversation and good, good food. Plenty of both. Aside from visiting my friends I had one hope for the weekend which was good food and I was not disappointed. 

We ate and talked, drank good coffee, ate, drank coffee, talked, ate, saw Anna Karenina, ate, talked, drank coffee. And just like that the weekend was over. 

Time away clears my head, offers new angles from which to think. And Seth and Sally are some of my favorite people. Jim and the kids kept busy and did great, I came home to a happy family, high on conversation and caffeine. 

I have promised Jim and myself that this week of Christmas will be slow. I will not stress out over things that don't matter, I will keep things light and meaningful, I will stay off of Pinterest and facebook.

On Monday the homeschool co-op went caroling to a nursing home, and it was beautiful. Everything is bringing me to tears right now. There is so much to be thankful for. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012


Today with all mothers I am attempting to string together words but the words are all gasped out of me. What can we do but groan, breathe heavy prayer-breaths, hug our own?  Words fail, silence is all we can offer now. I consider leaving this entire space blank, in honor of twenty empty beds tonight and twenty mothers leaving their child’s school yesterday with empty arms; for the empty spaces tonight in every mother lying awake and staring into the gaping chasm of evil in the world.

Yesterday morning at a little after nine I was pouring cereal. I remember because I had glanced at the clock then, thinking what a late start we were getting to the day. We were late because before breakfast I spread paints out on the table, hoping to finally finish a family Christmas project we’d been working on, it had been propped behind a chair for weeks.
At about ten after nine, as horror not yet imagined was taking place, I added the final touch to the canvas- a white star hovering above the stable.
We hung the painting on the wall, above the piano where today our daughter practices Ode to Joy. Above the twinkling lights of Christmas; the center of the room, where we automatically look.  And at the center of the canvas, where the eye lingers, is the star, this small white space, shining against the dark.

Mothers, we are called to hope. It is all we have. 

The world did not become darker yesterday, it has always been dark. One twenty year old man dressed in black blew to pieces our facade of safety, and in it’s heartbreaking wake we cry out along with this sad old world and its chasm of horrors, the groaning of the centuries, Come, Lord Jesus.
“O Come O Come Emmanuel . . . 
we mourn in lonely exile here”.
We weep.
And still, somehow, impossibly, there is Christmas. There are seven year old girls learning to play Beethoven, and mothers serving breakfast in warm kitchens, and people gathering together. My dear friend had a baby boy last night. We weep. We rejoice. There is no sense to be made of it.

We are called to hope not fear. We are called to the sacredness of everyday life and the gravity that everything we do matters. We are called to the impossibility of faith, hope, and love, and to stake our lives on it.

To live a life of hope is to arm our children not with weapons but with music. With stories and love, and with the glitter-eyed wonder at the beauty in the world. They, in turn, restore our childlike faith.

These spaces we cling to are not empty, they shine. It is not naivete to choose to see the good, but stubbornness and courage and the impossible strength of Love. 
The world is dark. But we will look in the direction of the light that still shines in the darkness.

On the darkest nights we will hang that light above the mantle and in the corners and shine it from every window. We will wrap light around the landscaping and the posts of our house and on our gates, we will bind light to our hands and our foreheads and stitch it inside the coats of our children. We will anoint them with light at every bath time, we will serve it to them with their cut-up pot roast, and nuzzle it into their ears and recite it until our own hearts pound with light. 

We will speak to one another of the light, and when you are lying so low that you cannot rise up I will lie down with you, and together in dust and desolation we will search the sky until eventually, incredibly, one night, we will again find the light.

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

Where children pure and happy pray to the bless├Ęd Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee, Son of the mother mild;
Where charity stands watching and faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Kathleen Norris, Acedia & me

A Marriage, Monks, and A Writer's Life

In this theological memoir Kathleen Norris explores her relationship with acedia, a term long forgotten and now difficult to define. It is often described as chronic apathy, boredom, sloth, bleakness of soul, an inability to care." She applies this concept to contemporary society as "the ancient demon of acedia in modern dress".

Norris goes to great length to define the word acedia, a complex and little-known word that feels frighteningly familiar, and then to describe it's presence in herself, her marriage, and in the writer's life. She also compares acedia with it's often misdiagnosed cousin, depression, and tells of the effects of both within her marriage.

After reading about acedia I find myself wanting to talk about it, to name the sin in myself and find it's evidence  all around me. I would recommend this book to anyone who struggles at times to love, to find meaning, to commit, to wake up in the morning. "I have come to believe that acedia can strike anyone whose work requires self-motivation and solitude, anyone who remains married "for better for worse," anyone who is determined to stay true to a commitment that is sorely tested in everyday life."

Twenty-first Century Acedia
I am intrigued that over the course of the last sixteen hundred years we have managed to lose the word acedia. Maybe that's one reason why, as we languish from spiritual drought, we are often unaware of what ails us. We spend greater sums on leisure but are more tense than ever . . . We turn away from the daily news, complaining of "compassion fatigue,". . . We are tempted to regard with reverence those who make themselves available twenty-four/seven, and regard silence as unproductive, solitude as irresponsible. But when distraction becomes the norm we are in danger of being immunized from feeling itself. We are more likely to engage in public spectacles of undemanding pseudo-care than address humanity's immediate needs. Is it possible that in twenty-first-century America, acedia has come into its own? How can that be, when so few know its name? (46)
Norris attempts to prescribe an antidote to acedia, based on spiritual tradition, ancient monastic writings, and her own experience, believing it can be dispelled by embracing life and faith. " She suggests the Psalms. Maintaining habits. Solitude. Nurturing relationship with God and with others. To lower our standards. "Do nothing, gallantly. Awake, not asleep, and not trying to escape." She considers medication and counseling and writes about both.

     Waiting seems at odds with progress, and we seldom ask whether it might have a purpose in and of itself. Etymology helps us here, for when we look up the work wait we are instructed to see vigor. Waiting, then, is not passive but a vigilant and watchful activity designed to keep us aware of what is really going on. Isaiah evokes this radical waiting as a source of vitality: "Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,/ they shall mount up with wings like eagles" (Isaiah 40:31). Such waiting is meant to engender a lively hope rooted in the physical as well as the psyche. It is an action, the "hop" contained within the world. To hope is to make a leap, to jump from where you are to someplace better. If you can imagine it, and dare to take that leap, you can go there- no matter how hopeless your situation may appear.
      Hope may seem a flimsy thing in the face of acedia's cold assurance that nothing matters and that waiting is unmitigated hell. In midlife, waiting can seem a barren thing indeed. What are we waiting for, except the increasing disability and inevitable indignities of old age? But hope has an astonishing resilience and strength. Its very persistence in our hearts indicates that it is not a tonic for wishful thinkers but the ground on which realists stand. For thousands of years the psalmist and the prophets have been a source of strength for people facing plague, warfare, massacre, imprisonment, execution, and exile. This is the sort of hope that matters, for it can conquer not just acedia and despair, but death itself. (220-221)
The last chapter of the book is dedicated to quotations about acedia:

"A generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men, of men unduly divorced from the slow processes of nature, or men in whom every vital impulse slowly withers, as though they were cut flowers in a vase." -Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness

"If the doors of perception were cleansed, said Blake, everything would appear to man as it is- Infinite. But the doors of perception are hung with the cobwebs of thought; prejudice, cowardice, sloth. Eternity is with us, inviting our contemplation perpetually, but we are too frightened, lazy, and suspicious to respond: too arrogant to still our thought, and let divine sensation have its way. It needs industry and goodwill if we would make that transition: for the process involves a veritable spring-cleaning of the soul, a turning-out and rearrangement of our mental furniture, a wide opening of closed windows, that the notes of the wild birds beyond our garden may come to us fully charged with wonder and freshness, and drown with their music the noise of the gramophone within." Evelyn Underhill, Practical Mysticism.

"Let it stand that there is a sin of not doing, of not knowing, of not finding out what one must do- in short, of not caring. This is the literal meaning of acedia, recognized as a sin for so many centuries and plaguing us still." Karl Menninger, Whatever Became of Sin?

"[Sloth] is the sin that believes nothing, cares, to know nothing, seeks to know nothing, loves nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing . .. and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die." Dorothy Sayers, The Other Six Deadly Sins