Thursday, March 5, 2009

church quote

I am reading a fascinating book by Paul Elie, The Life You Save May Be Your Own, that explores the seperate and connected stories of four Catholic writers-Dorothy Day, Flannery O'Connor, Thomas Merton and Walter Percy--in the first half of the 20th century. As I understand it, his thesis is that although they are mostly interpreted and understood and read as individuals -- they are better understood in connection and community with one another, as four individuals who both separately and as friends were engaged almost violent pilgrimage towards making their experience of religion enfleshed in the work they did as writers. (I could be way off on this thesis, since I am a chronically lazy reader and I've only read about a tenth of the book.)

Right now I want to remember this quote-- Elie is discussing Day's first return to the church as a socialist writer and dissaffected young wild woman in New York-- "...what she will seek in the Church, and find in the Church, is what each of them [the other three writers] will seek and find there: a place of pilgrimage, a home and a destination, where city and world meet, where the self encounters the other, where personal experience and the testimony of the ages can be reconciled."

This seems so meaty and wonderful and profound-- this is getting close to a deep enough picture of the church that it almost sounds right. This is a rigorous and beautiful enough description to sound like the truth to me.

I so often get extraordinarily critical of church--mostly because I tend to be contemptous of that which I'm closest too, and it's easier to criticize than engaging in thoughtful and compassionate and honest assessment of what really is going on from a sociological standpoint in this kind of an organization.... But as critical and contemptuous as I am, I am also completely enmeshed in the church. So that's kind of messy. Either I'm enmeshed because I am deluded and using it to fulfill unhealthy tendencies and dependencies in my psyche (and certainly, some of that--more than I know-- is true), or my critical eye is completely arrogant, self-deceived and unfounded contempt (and there's huge truth to this)...

But if I really believe the church is the agent of Life and Grace -- the meeting point between God and all of society--then I believe it is the best, most sensible place for all of my secular friends.

And I can't maintain this mixture of arrogant, stand-offish contempt and unhealthy, infantile dependency and expect my friends to be attracted to that. ...

But this view of the church as summarized by Elie seems close enough to the truth to be of service. I need to continually re-orient my vision so that I no longer entertain the thought of the church as some limp, weak, fantasy-ridden and non-intellectual hide-out for goofy people.

And here is this beautiful, fully-orbed, entirely healthy and robust viewpoint --
"a place of pilgrimage, a home and destination.... where the self encounters the other, where personal testimony and the testimony of the ages can be reconciled...."

As I said, this just sounds wonderfully right, true and good to me. This to me sounds like perhaps this is a part of what God intended and intends-- (I could be wrong, I'd like to understand more).

How grateful I am that these words came to me at this point in my life, when I had at least a tiny bit of an opening to hear them.

I am praying for my friends to come to know the church in this way. I pray I can come to know it in this way.

Wonderful Day

It's sunny today. I love the rain but it's so lovely to walk under that bright scrim of blue. And I have been having the most wonderful day.

After feeling so morose about my inability to pay attention, things shifted a bit. It's not that I'm not paying attention--as if I was a zombie or a robot-- I am actually acutely attentive-- -- It's only that my attention would better serve me (and God and those around me) if I were to shift its focus.

I know this is mostly semantics. But--I'm a poet and semantics are just about everything to me. How freeing it was to stop screaming at myself "JENNY, PAY ATTENTION," (with the rest of my internal tape saying all sorts of impatient, unkind and unhelpful words-- and instead to say, "Shift your attention. Look up. Look out. Look around." Ahhh. It must have been from God it brings me such profound joy and restfulness.

I felt like attention was this huge expensive necessity which I had not a single cent in cash reserves to pay. And then, it was as if God said-- "you have enough"

Unfortunately most of the time my attention is focused on figuring out how to protect myself from other people, how to hide away from other's attention and love and mostly their otherness-- how to get people to approve of or like me-- how to avoid God's loving gaze of goodness by working really hard at cooking all the world's internal judgment books so that I might fall on the right side--

I know this about myself-- it's one of my besetting sins-- but I just hadn't put it together with my inner cringing shame at the words: "pay attention."

This may make no sense. But it was a huge blessing to me. When I find myself (very often) self-involved and sidetracked by the old spin cycles I get on-- (one friend said, "Just think of yourself as a gutter-ball") I hear a word of grace --Shift your attention. Attend to other things right now. There's enough time for what is necessary.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Pay Attention

Those words, pay attention, carry more emotional weight for me than any other words I can think of. They make me cringe and want to hide away. They make me want to give it all up and drink poison.

If my sisters read this blog, they'll be laughing just at the title. Because this was the mantra of a certain parent of mine to me practically every day, possibly every waking hour of my life as an older child. I am HORRIBLE at paying attention, and it is a very bad character trait, I promise you I know that.

As evidence I could provide cupboards full of broken dishes, a whole atlas full of wrong turns, calendars rife with forgotten appointments, a banquet of ruined cooking. Beyond all this, the worst consquence of my inability to give up on my self-absorbed maundering obsessions--a lifetime of many profoundly stunted and damaged or simply altogether missed opportunities to love and know the amazing people who surround me.

And when i decide ok, this time, i'm really going to be different, i really will pay attention every waking moment, I have no freaking idea how to even begin to do this. To even begin to slow down to the degree necessary--it feels like I'm walking in slow motion through a tight tunnel filled with sharp pointy things. I go back to wanting to drink poison.

And yet I find when I am around someone who is attentive, in any way, I am profoundly blessed. If I can slow down enough to watch how other people --those attentive ones--- wash dishes, chop carrots, shop for vegetables, interact with children, listen to their friends -- it's amazing to me. I feel like I'm in the presence of some kind of grace I would give almost anything to experience. But even these words feel like I'm lying to you all. I don't know if I have ever slowed down enough in real time to actually attend to anything as it is happening-- i'm always processing after the fact--(meaning that I'm always a few steps behind--meaning I'm never paying attention in the moment i'm actually in)... Still, I realize after the fact that I have been around some people who live life in a more alive, present, unhurried, attentive manner. And the realization -- it moves me from wanting to drink poison to longing to partake in this world, this grace they seem to have access to that I have never experienced.

Jesus says, "only one thing is necessary," to Martha. Sometimes I wonder if that was what he was talking about--all you need is to choose one thing-- and that one thing, that one choice, listening to him, becoming alive to his word--perhaps that is attention. Why wouldn't I pay everything to get this?