Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Letter to A.J.

Dear A,

Your writing is getting better and better. Looks like you have been doing a lot of it too. Glad to read it.

Thanks for your well wishes. I am now out of the hospital and feeling much better, but finding myself in the thick of more uncertainty. I resigned yet again from another job that was making me mentally ill. I am being forced to reinvent myself professionally and am having a really tough time coming up with something to put in the place of the case-management I've been doing for the past five years. It's such a Catch-22, having experience in what you have experience in and being hired for jobs that you don't want, and not having the experiernce to do what you do want, and how to get it? In any case, I've made peace with the decision and really hope God has something in the works. I do have an interview on Friday with a "eco/green" cleaning company. I am contemplating giving up my apartment and moving back to Doylestown for the next nine months before the wedding to try to save some money. I really have little reason for being in Philadelphia now, aside from being close to my friends. I'm tired of the city. Soo many changes.

Thanks for your last couple emails, it's been great for me to read them. Sounds like your romantic adventures continue. I hope to continue hearing about them.

One thing you said in your last email...about being special. That need to be special. This still haunts me. More and more I feel less and less special. I am not becoming a monk. I am not living in a bus. I am not consecrating myself to God in any profound way. I am getting married and looking for work. Thankfully I have met a very special person to start a new life with, which I guess is "special" in its own way. Debbie has been a huge support in all I have been going through. But in contrast to the rest of society, nothing I'm doing is all that extra-ordinary. It is humiliating, actually, to realize how much I want to be at the center of things, the main attraction. What is the antidote to this?

I have not been feeling very close to God lately. Somehow I feel like my lack of trust and faith in His providence and my constant focusing on my own uneasiness is not pleasing to Him. That fire I used to have has died down very low. Much of this is realizing how easy it is to talk the talk but walking the walk in Christian life is what makes real saints. I see how personal holiness is more than just a matter of faith and grace...it is hard work. This is very offputting to me. Intellecutally I assent to it, but when I am honest with myself, I don't want to work hard. I don't want to do what I don't want to do. It would be nice it it was clear what God's will was for me, and then even if that was hard, at least I would know I was on the right path, and would have no one to blame but myself for straying from that. But its not clear. Probably never is. I don't love enough, and fall so easily into despair and hopelessness. These conditions are not of God, and yet I sit in them like a baby in a puddle. I don't even know how to pray. Haven't been writing much for writing's sake lately, you know? It's like real life is too real or something, and everything that comes out of my mouth seems just self-indulgent or phony. No good stories to tell, no traveling to relate. Just me and my uncertainty.

Hope to hear from you soon!

R

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Well, that cold has turned into the flu which paved the way for pneumonia, so rob the fob might be out of commission for a while. Or maybe I will be writing more now that I am home from work? In any case Debbie has been an angel of a nurse taking me to the doctor, grocery shopping, renting movies, reminding me what to take when...I don't know what I would do without her. Honestly.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Well, I am officially sick with Debbie's cold...achy and coughy...so I may ease up on the asceticism a bit and try to get some R & R this week, along with some chicken noodle soup I just picked up at Acme. Thanks to Regina for keeping things in perspective. Gotta love those Benedictines...it's all about balance.

THANKS to all my awesome friends....esp. Tim and Jeremy....for the engagement party last week. I had a blast doing the cockroach with Michael, talking with everyone, and bashing the home pregnancy test out of the pinata and sleeping with its head.

More on acedia

I want to talk some more about sloth (acedia), to chase this nasty, quiet sin of mine out into the light.

I have been besieged by the demons of sloth for the past few months, so much so at points that I am calling Christian friends in desperation asking for prayers to ward off this spiritual attack. It carries with it the same shame that sexual sin induces...the shame of succumbing to the appetites of the flesh. In this case that appetite is satiated by "a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest" (Prov 24:33) But only for a time. With habit, the root of sloth grows thicker and thicker until it is like a strong vine choking the life out of the tree. One moment becomes two becomes three, and before you know it you are resting the day away and paving the way to your own demise.

What does this sin look like in daily life?

For me, it is coming home from work and falling asleep at 7:30 without eating dinner (because making it is too much work--laziness), waking up hungry (poverty) at 6am, then hitting the snooze on the alarm in succession: 6:30, 6:45, 6:50, 6:52 until I cannot put off getting up anymore and drag myself out of bed, dreadful (dejection) of the day ahead. Each minute in bed I enjoy the way one might guiltily "enjoy" a pornographic movie, or sharing in gossip, or eating copious amounts of fat and sugar laden food. It is a "sweet" feeling, a sure sign that the flesh is being indulged. It is an escape from what needs to be attended to--that is, work and prayer.

It is tied to envy, another deadly sin. I desire what my neighbor has, while not wanting to work for it. This creates another vice, the vice of dejection, as St. John Cassian describes it. I get dejected at the work before me, because I don't want to do it, wanting for myself the fruits of someone else's labor.

Sleeping 8 hours a day is healthy; sleeping 12 hours a day is indulgent. I don't think about sex much these days, but that doesn't stop the devil from hitting me somewhere else. In this case, I have become a glutton for sleep, and greedy with my time, which should be directed towards God and charity towards my neighbor. It is a lust for rest.

And so I am not just guilty of one deadly sin (which carries with it the treat of eternal damnation), but FIVE (sloth, lust, envy, gluttony, greed). I deserve to be damned.

This idea of being shut out of heaven is no joke, and Jesus makes clear that "not everyone who cries 'Lord, Lord'" will enter. Take the parable of the foolilsh virgins who missed the bridegroom because they had neglected to bring enough oil for their lamps (Mt 25:1-13). This is the "poverty of the sluggard," Proverbs talks about. I am reaping the laziness I have sown. My only hope is that I can, with grace, begin to sow better seed so that I can produce good fruit.

Am I exagerating, or being hard on myself? Laziness is one of those 'sins of omission' that is so easy to forget about in the confessional, but which is so telling of one's character. Like a woman who is sensitive to the state of her body, I have recently come out of the fog and realized just how perilous a state my spirit is in.


So what is the remedy? I haven't figured this one out yet, but I imagine it is going to come down to just plain hard work (not that hard work alone merits salvation--that is Pelagianism)...the work of the athlete. Athletes train their bodies to compete. My soul is sick and my spirit flabby and heavy, an embarrassment in the eyes of the saints. I am full of excuses. God calls us to be holy, and being holy comes down to grace...and a lot of hard work.

St. Paul admonishes the Corinthians to train their spirits with this sports rhetoric:

"Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified."

What does this training look like? For one, I imagine, it would look like charity rather than being selfish with one's time. I will be teaching CCD on Sundays starting in October, and tutoring Tuesday nights starting next week. Because this spirit of acedia has taken root in me, I regard this service with disdain--that is, I have no desire to do it, in the same way a child may have a disdain for doing the dishes after dinner. But what happens when it doesn't get done?

It looks like self-control. That means if the alarm goes off at 6am, I get up at 6am. I do the work of making breakfast and packing my lunch.

It also looks like prayer. Prayer wards off the devil. It is harder, now that I have invited the lion into the den, but with grace nothing is impossible. I need to do the work of prayer.

I will continue to be tried and tested as I resist the vices I am so prone to; the temptation only ceases when we close our eyes for the last time. This thought alone fills me with weariness. Which makes me think: life is not about easy living; it is hard work, whatever that 'work' might look like. I need to get on the ball so that like the tree that bore no fruit (Mt. 21:19), the servant who produced no interest on his talent (Lk 19:12-28), and the foolish virgins (Mt 25:1-13) who ran out of oil, I do not end up outside the gates, wailing and gnashing my teeth.