Friday, July 17, 2015

Throw the dog a bone

Lord I believe; help me in my unbelief. Mark 9:24

 It’s inevitable; I should have expected to come crashing down from the mountain.

I’m confused about what God is—how do I even imagine something so vast, so incomprehensible as the existence of God? Who is He? Exactly what am I believing in, praying to, trusting? Trying to grasp this, I read about God’s nature, that our limited human brains can’t even begin to understand Him. And instead of being in awe of Him, instead of being comforted by His vastness and His power, my brain goes into overdrive trying to figure it out, trying to hold on to something tangible.

When I pray my mind wanders. I try sitting with Him in silent, contemplative prayer and I think that I really need to paint that wall in the living room where the paint is cracking but remember that was a slightly deeper shade than the color I used in the hallways and I not sure I even have any more of that living room color so should I go buy a gallon of the original paint color or would it work to use a different color, maybe darker or lighter, or should I just repaint the whole living room, but what a huge task that is because of all the windows and doorways and I’m just not up for a project that huge right now . . .  The inside of my brain is like Alvin and the Chipmunks on speed. Can you just turn it off, woman? Geesh.

Instead of resting quietly and comfortably in the existence of God and feeling my union with Him, I get distracted by the vastness of creation and what He is and the nature of infinity. “Be still and know that I am God.” Okay, work with me here, I’m trying.

“Lord, I’m hurting. I believe, I believe. But I can’t recapture the feeling that I had before, that absolute certainty, that blissful union with you. Can you please just throw this dog a bone and let me be with you for a while without all of this static?” I cry out in desperation.

One thing I know to be true: faith is strengthened by doubt—so consider this a strength-building phase. If I never doubted then this faith of mine would be unexamined and less deep. I have felt the depth of a relationship with Him. I’m in a fallow phase now and I know from experience that if I just trust Him and not give up, that feeling of relationship will reemerge from this swamp. I will not run away. I will dig deeper. I will remind myself again and again that God is a mystery, an unsolvable puzzle, and again and again I will pray for trust, for help in my unbelief.

And I go back to Scripture to find assurance that the Lord will not let me get lost, that He sent the Holy Spirit to help me understand.
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. John 14:26

Come, Holy Spirit, come.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

In feint praise of kale

Want to know what I’m wearing? I just put on a simple denim skirt (slightly above the knee, Ann Taylor, bought at the thrift store), a tank top, two necklaces (because one won’t do), and a copper bracelet. Shoes will be added before I leave the house. I’m going to Whole Foods to buy 10 pounds of kale. Just trying to make an event of it. Woohoo.
What’s with the kale thing? I grew up eating kale, one of the vegetables in regular rotation at dinner at my mama’s table. Like spinach, kale was always eaten sprinkled with vinegar, never Blue Bonnet on the kale. Kale came in a box, already chopped and frozen like a brick in a block of ice. I presumed that was kale in its natural state. Little did I know at the time it grew from the earth in leaves.

Like everyone else who eats food, I have become increasing aware of the kale epidemic. There are now kale chips and kale smoothies and kale gelato. I hold no grudge against kale, but I don’t get the excitement, like suddenly someone discovered that it’s a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, the fountain of youth, and a path to nuclear disarmament. It’s just there, dull green leaves, ever so slightly bitter, but boring.
So last night I did a little online research, curious about clean food diets versus paleo versus anything else that touted a new, improved healthy life. Kale is the common thread—everything I read included kale. But here’s the thing—there is controversy about everything else. Some say don’t eat fruit because fruit is just basically sugar and sugar is the enemy. Grains, legume, carbohydrates, and fats can kill you. Nothing GMO, non-organic, or animal based. And here’s the newest wrinkle, courtesy of the clean food regime—don’t cook anything. Also don’t process it in any way (for example, don’t mash apples to make applesauce). So I kept crossing things off my shopping list. And why bother with recipes? All I need to eat is raw, unadorned kale.
I’m figuratively girding my loins, heading out to Whole Foods with resolve. I will pass by the bakery with that fabulous croissant bread pudding. I won’t even go down the potato chip aisle. Even the salad bar will be off limits, because those wretched red peppers marinated in olive oil could kill me. I will bravely buy a large quantity of organic, non-GMO kale and head home, triumphant.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

In love with a priest

This probably happens to most Catholic girls at least once in their life. I just held off for many, many years, waiting for the right one. I am in love with a priest. Not just any priest, of course—heaven forbid (use of that specific phrase is not lost on me) it should be an ordinary priest, some average Father Joe at the local parish who leads the youth group. Nope, I’m in love with a priest who is a Trappist monk who would have had his 100th birthday this year, had he lived. He died in 1968 from an accidental electrocution. His priestly name was Father Louis, but his given name was Thomas Merton.

I read Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, which he wrote when he was in his early 30s. It is the account of his boyhood in France, his education in England and the United States, his eventual conversion to Roman Catholicism, and his growing longing to become a priest and live a monastic life.

I loved him as a boy who didn’t feel that he fit in with other French students, who mourned the death of his mother, and missed his artist father who was frequently away. I loved his intellectual brashness when he was a young man studying at Cambridge and Columbia. He smoked cigarettes, drank too much alcohol, haunted bookstores, and had long existential conversations with his friends. For a while he thought he was a communist. Over time he became more entranced with the mystical elements of faith, which led him to a deep exploration of the ancient Christian writers. Although I find his deep intellectual discussion of Catholicism a bit tedious, nonetheless I appreciate his dedication. In the end, his connection with God seems to be much more mystical than intellectual, and I love that aspect of him as well.

We would have had such interesting conversations. We could have dug in the garden and talked about how serenity brings us closer to God. We could have walked down the country lanes, saying nothing, just smiling knowing we were together in God’s presence. We could have sat on the porch, drinking coffee while the sun rose over the mountain.

Did I mention that I think he is incredibly cute in his monk’s clothes and his denim jacket? I love the joy that radiates in his photos. Yes, he’s the perfect man. Except he’s dead and he was a priest who consecrated his life to God and lived in a monastery. Just figures, doesn’t it?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Si comprehenderis, non est Deus

Last week I was in Montana and Wyoming. Unencumbered by man-made structures and multi-lane concrete highways, cars and trucks, crowds of intense people rushing to do seemingly important things, and tsunamis of words from every direction, I felt the grandeur of God’s creation. The endless blue sky. The mountains and the meadows strewn with wildflowers. Rivers, lakes, waterfalls, little bubbling streams. Buffalos, bears, antelope, hummingbirds and eagles. And especially the night sky—vast, sprinkled with a million stars.
I try to sit at God’s feet, feeling His presence. An aging woman in Northern Virginia, the United States of America, North America, planet Earth, the solar system in the Milky Way galaxy . . . and on and on into the limitless cosmos. How can He—this God I cling to—know me? I, a mere speck in God’s creation, can’t even begin to understand what God is. So I believe without understanding. Even the concept of referring to God as “He” must be inaccurate, our feeble way of anthropomorphizing something beyond our comprehension.

“Si comprehenderis, non est Deus”—the words of St. Augustine. If you understand, it is not God. No human being can figure out God with our limited, rational minds. What a relief to know this, to know that one of the greatest minds of human history didn’t understand either.