Haunted

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.

Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding.

When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”

Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.”

We’ve all heard this story – Jesus asks the servers to fill the foot-washing jars with water, then he has them take some out and voila! it’s turned into the best wine. It’s Jesus’ first miracle, the start of his public ministry; and he does it at the request of his mother.

But there’s a part of this story that escaped me for a very long time. Someone pointed it out to me a year ago, and it’s haunted me ever since. Haunted me! As in, I can sense that there’s a profound meaning and lesson there, and I can’t grasp it. I don’t know what it means.

Maybe you can help me figure it out. Or maybe it will just haunt you too.

Or maybe I’ve over-hyped it and now you’ll feel really let down when I tell you what it is.

Anyway, here you go:

“Do whatever he tells you.” Those are the last recorded words of Mary in Scripture.

 

In Defense of Self-Help Books

I like to read self-help books. But I know a lot of people vehemently dislike them, and usually they have one or both of these two objections: that these books don’t ever offer anything new, they just repackage common sense concepts with new words; and that people who read the books spend more time reading new books than they do actually trying to make any of the changes that the books suggest.

I don’t necessarily think either of those objections are false, but I also don’t think they are enough reason to summarily reject this whole genre of books as being worthless.

I think the main reason I like reading this type of book is because I like thinking about how people think. Any book that delves into how the brain works, or how people are the same or how they are different holds a special interest for me. Mortimer Adler in How to Read a Book talks about the classic philosophical works as being accessible to the layman because we can all test the theses in them for ourselves. Self-help books are in the same vein, but deliberately written to be easily understood.

Some might argue that this is itself an objection to them, or at least a symptom of the dumbing down of our society, but I disagree. I think expressing things in simple terms is an art, and it’s one that requires a very fine degree of understanding of the subject. I find this in my homeschooling life embarrassingly often- when I can’t explain a math or science concept in sufficiently simple terms that my 6 year old can understand it, it’s a sign to me that my own grasp of it is not as complete as it needs to be.

I also don’t find the objection compelling that these books just repackage old, common-sense ideas with new vocabulary. We can go right back to Ecclesiastes with that argument, right? “There is nothing new under the sun.” But each author has their own spin on things – based on their unique experiences and background. And sometimes the right words can make an idea click for someone when it hadn’t before. New vocabulary can change the conversation and open the idea up to new groups of people – make common sense a little more common, so to speak.

And I do concede that I have often enough fallen prey to the idea that if I keep reading self-help books, one of them will eventually solve my problems for me. I know, in my rational mind, that I cannot read my way into a better life; but reading is fun! Still, even with that, I do find that each new book gives me a short burst of motivation, and I can usually get some project done that I’ve been procrastinating on after I’ve finished one.

Now, I’m not suggesting that if you don’t like self-help books, you go out and force yourself to read them. But if you do find them useful, maybe I’ve convinced you to not feel guilty about it?

 

Virtues I Want to Cultivate (in Myself)

  1. Diligence – Keep working on the tasks I’ve undertaken until they are accomplished
  2. Perseverance – Do not give up on a task when it becomes difficult
  3. Humility –

    “a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the, fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another.” C. S. Lewis (as Screwtape)

  4. Gentleness  – Respond with kindness rather than react with anger
  5. Patience – with others and myself
  6. Courage – Do not let others’ opinions sway me from my convictions
  7. Consistency – Keep on keeping on, don’t switch horses midstream

Bridging the Gap

Yesterday, I told you about my struggles with the tension between my eternal nature that wants to focus on transcendent things, and my carnal nature that wants things like regular meals, and a comfortable bed. And perhaps because of original sin, that second voice is a lot louder and harder to ignore than the first one.

Like I said, the main reason I started this blog was to talk about this very dilemma – how to not lose sight of Heaven, while also making sure that my kids are fed and everyone has clean underwear.

I have a feeling there’s not going to be a satisfying moment of “Eureka! I have now solved this problem and found the perfect balance of time and activities. I will never be plagued by this frustration again!”  That would be so great, wouldn’t it?

Still, as I was writing yesterday’s post, I got the first glimmer of an answer as to the general approach to the problem. And, sadly, it’s not some profound, arcane revelation that’s going to rock our world.

In fact, if you were raised Catholic, it’s something both you and I have heard a million times from our parents and others ever since we were first able to say, “I want that and I can’t have it.”

Say it with me now: “Offer it up!”

It’s not about finding the perfect balance of spiritual versus mundane activities. It’s about realizing that, in fact, there is no separation between spiritual and mundane activities. It’s about our focus, our attitude. In particular, it’s about an attitude of service – of serving Jesus by serving those around us.

There’s a book I haven’t read yet, because I think the title says it all. It’s called The Corporal Works of Mommy (and Daddy Too!) by Greg and Lisa Popcak. The thesis of it is that the various mundane tasks we do everyday, the same boring drudge work of cooking, cleaning, laundry, in fact fall under the category of corporal works of mercy – but only if we (here we go again) offer them up as acts of loving service to our family. Instead of being a distraction from our spiritual life, they can actually be the very means of bringing us and our families closer to God.

(Funny side note: I first heard about this book on a podcast where the authors were talking about it, and I kept hearing the title as The Corporal Works of Mommy and Daddy II, as in this is the second edition or volume of the book, and I thought it was pretty obnoxious of them to keep repeating the II. Twasn't till afterward that I realized the real title.)

So, if we deliberately offer up each boring task, or frustrating encounter of our days to God, then those acts become prayers, and we get closer to St. Paul’s instruction to “pray without ceasing.”

Of course, the real trick will be putting this into practice, right? I know I don’t have the answer to that one, but maybe you and I together can up with some strategies that help us better manage it each day.

Why We Don’t Do What We Want To

Yesterday I was elated about the fact that we are souls made to enjoy eternity with God – we are meant to contemplate truth, goodness, and beauty, and do so forever. We climb up the mountain and see God revealed in his glory, and we are filled with awe and wonder and life is magnificent.

And then someone’s stomach rumbles…

Today I’m reminded of the fact that we do in fact have bodies as well as souls. Bodies that demand to be fed, and cared for and pampered and protected, and complain loudly and insistently when those demands are not met. “Who cares about truth or beauty,” they seem to say, “when all I want right now is that candy bar?”

And that is the struggle we each face every day, right? We want to (in fact, we were created to) pray, to meditate, to focus on spiritual things, but at the same time we need to eat, to bathe, to do laundry, to earn a living. In every moment, we choose to focus on one or the other. And we find ourselves, or at least I find myself, careening from one extreme to the other, rarely feeling satisfied.

If I never take time to pray, or to read the Bible, because I am too busy with the mundane duties, then I am not opening myself to the grace God is pouring out on me. On the other hand, if I’m yelling at my child because they interrupted my spiritual reading (ahem… I may or may not have done this yesterday… ), well, that’s not the way to become a saint, is it?

And, as the mom, I’m not just facing this struggle in myself. Caring for my children’s bodies is the bulk of my daily duties, and that includes their minds. So, cooking, doing laundry, reading books, making sure they don’t spend the whole day staring at a screen – all those things occupy my time. At the same time, I need to nourish their souls – show them unconditional love, for sure, but also remind them of their heavenly father who loves them even more than I do.

And sometimes the good of their souls requires me to frustrate the desires of their bodies, because, just like me, they have fallen natures that resist the good they want to do in favor of the fun thing in front of them at that moment. Discipline can feel like dying, when what you want to do is play Math Playground for hours, and Mom says you need to stop and do copy-work.

And the fallen nature in me sometimes resists the pain of listening to them complain and does let them spend too much time on the computer, but then we pay for it later. Or I put off doing the laundry, and then get frustrated because no one has clean clothes. And then some days I flip to being the drill sergeant – when all I’m doing is keeping everyone on task, with no time for fun or snuggles or anything beyond what’s on the to-do list.

So, how do we get off this roller coaster? Or is that even the goal? I don’t have an answer. In fact, this blog is basically my exploration of this question in the hopes of finding an answer.

But I’m encouraged by today’s Mass readings for two different reasons.

One is that this struggle is universal – the first reading tells us that the Israelites in the desert were complaining about having nothing but manna to eat. God was literally giving them bread from Heaven, and they were grumbling about wanting some meat. Also Moses totally tells God he’d rather die than hear any more of their whining, so I feel better about sometimes (yeah, sometimes… rarely even. If only!) voicing my frustrations too.

The second is that Jesus does feed both body and soul – today’s Gospel is the feeding of the five thousand. And ultimately, trusting in him means knowing that he will feed our spiritual hunger, and if he does let our bodies go hungry, it is only because he plans something better for us than that meal we are focused on.

So, the plan for today is to keep on keeping on, and try my best. And trust in him to provide what I need, for both body and soul.

Why We Do What We Do

Today is the feast of the transfiguration of Jesus – when he went up the mountain with his apostles and they witnessed him in his divine glory and heard God the Father say, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

What reading and hearing this story today most reminded me of was the reality that we are “embodied souls.” Our souls, the eternal, most alive parts of us, are (or at least were created to be) radiant with the same glory that filled Jesus in this scene. That radiance is veiled while we are in our bodies, but it is the true essence of who we are.

Importantly, it is the essence of everyone we encounter – our spouse, our kids, the cashier at the store, the stranger who cuts us off on the highway. All our interactions are with immortal souls – and how we interact affects both their eventual end and ours. (HT: C. S. Lewis)

This is why we work on improving ourselves. This is why we teach our children the things they need to learn, even when the lessons are hard, and the learning is reluctant. This is why we offer up our hurt and anger and impatience and struggles rather than lash out, yell, scream, or hit. This is why we cling to Jesus and throw ourselves on his mercy.

It is because the other person is a radiant being, an immortal soul, and damaging someone’s soul (or our own) is far more serious than any hurt they can cause our bodies.

Welcome!

Thanks for stopping by.  I’m glad you’re here. Please grab a warm beverage (or a cold one, if you prefer) and stay awhile.

Just like you (I presume), I have a life that keeps me very busy from day to day. In my case, it’s because I’m homeschooling four kids who are still on the younger side. So, my daily life is full of settling fights over toys, drilling math facts, reading the same Dr. Seuss books 85 times in a row, as well as the never ending cycle of laundry, meals, and cleaning. It’s the kind of “running as fast as you can just to stay in place” that can leave no time for the deeper things. No time for contemplating truth, and goodness, and beauty, that trilogy of classical philosophical enquiry.

This blog is my attempt to discover how to keep my eyes on the deeper things while also making sure that everyone is fed and clothed and learns long division. I hope you find my (mis)adventures along this path informative, or at least entertaining – int he vein of the quote, “If you can’t be a good example, you’ll just have to be a horrible warning.”

So come along for the ride, we’ll read some good books, explore good habits (and bad ones), and hopefully learn some cool things together.