Went to two Shabbatservices this weekend, one included a beautiful baby naming ceremony, and was thoroughly impressed. I’ve done myshareofreading about ritual, meaning and myth and their power in our lives. And it enabled me to appreciate what I witnessed and participated in not only with heart and soul but with my mind.
But for all the beauty and joy, my mind was troubled. I was saddened by the fact that fewer and fewer of us have those resources in our lives. In our pursuit to master the world around us, we’ve reduced myth to fables and fantasy. We’ve made ritual mere clashing cymbal and empty motion. We’ve made a God shaped hole in our lives and have since tried mightily to fill it.
We’ve tried fundamentalisms of every sort, from a worship of science to a worship of sacred books. We’ve tried amorphous “spirituality” and superstition as well. We’ve tried mindless distractions and “serious” politics. I’m wondering when we will try humble, contrite hearts that can listen to that soft whisper that only our deepest selves know.
I “finished” my Exercises several months ago and it has taken me some time to reflect and digest what’s happened. I would say that no great vocational insight struck me. What happened was I received a capstone to a very long process of know who I am and whose I am.
The Jesuits have a handbook for this search. It is The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, composed by the saint before he was even a priest. Often described as Ignatius’s greatest gift to the world, these exercises unfold a dynamic process of prayer, meditation, and self-awareness. The basic thrust is to make us more attentive to God’s activity in our world, more responsive to what God is calling us to do. Ignatian spiritual directors accompany or guide people through the exercises in retreat houses, parishes, and other settings.
I “finished” my Exercises several months ago and it has taken me some time to reflect and digest what’s happened. I would say that no great vocational insight struck me. What happened was I received a capstone to a very long process of getting to know who I am and whose I am on a deep level. What I am to actually do is simple: the “slow work” of God. Day to day. Minute to minute. I’ve learned to be open to God directing my life. My direction becomes clear as circumstances arise and preparation makes for opportunity.
“Use your opponents’ strategies against them and you take away their power. […] Get your opponents to lose their grace, and they will lose their purpose, Padawan. […] Do not meet hate with hate. Meet it with purpose.“―Qui-Gon Jinn teaches Obi-Wan Kenobi how to win a battle.[src]
This weekend was a good one spiritually. Saturday, Bishop Steib from the Memphis visited and gave us a Word that had people rushing for his autograph. Today at Mass, Father gave a great homily on authentic Christianity. Both had me pondering on how I saw my own faith. Was it something I should defend against attack from the Jehovah’s witnesses at my door on the one hand to the subtle (and often not so subtle) condescension of my atheist friends and the likes of Bill Maher on the other? For a long time I, in fact, thought so. Well, no longer. I am willing to evangelize and to explain, but I’ll no longer defend. To do so is to accept the premise for attack. I don’t apologize for loving my wife. Why in the hell should I for loving Jesus? Rationally, neither makes any sense.
I remember a good friend asking me essentially why I was a man of faith, “You’re so bright,” he said. He went on with the usual old saws about how religion is good to get your through a tough time or if your are weak mentally or emotionally but not for the serious minded and intelligent. And I explained, patiently, where I was coming from.
Such thinking is ironic to me. It demonstrates a strong faith in one’s senses. If a man born blind denies the existence of color, what argument could convince him? His senses tell him nothing about the existence of color. In fact, every argument that I know of made to convince him could easily be employed to “prove” the existence of God!
Faith like love or art is a part of the human experience that is not subject to argument. It is ineffable and undeniable for those who experience it. To quote St. Thomas Aquinas:
To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.