Monday, November 24, 2008
Rituals. We all have them. Daily ones. Weekly ones. Unpleasant ones. Eagerly anticipated ones. They shape our personal lives; they are part of the very core of our private lives.
Thursday mornings offer the opportunity for one of my more pleasant rituals: my weekly solo trip to Timmy’s Donut Emporium. I attend 8:30 Mass, followed by the rosary with the dozen or so of the dear old daily Mass cronies. It is complete by 9:15 and I stay for quiet prayer until 9:30. Then it is off to the nearby Timmy’s where I habitually order my double-double decaf (in the necessary china mug) and a sesame seed bagel, not toasted, with a side order of peanut butter. Carefully arranging my breakfast on the table, I extract three serviettes from the metal holder, tear my bagel into four pieces, spread my peanut butter on them, and eagerly turn to my 30-minute read of the Thursday morning book.
For the last year the Thursday morning book has been Ralph Martin’s, Fulfillment of All Desire, a wonderful work which my daughter and I refer to as FOAD (she too is ploughing through it at the same snail’s pace). FOAD is a summary of the wisdom of the Doctors of the Church. In his introduction, Ralph freely admits he, like many Catholics, had always felt an obligation to read the works of the Doctors of the Church (St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Augustine, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Catherine of Siena, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Francis of Assisi et al) but found himself repeatedly bogged down in their heady detailed sharing of the advanced spiritual life. But, one day he awoke and found himself filled with a zeal, not only to read them, but with the grace to absorb them. Aware of the great gift he had been given by God, he felt called to put together a summary of their key messages. And, with the publication of FOAD, we are the blessed recipients of the graces offered to him.
FOAD is tough. It’s a sweaty spiritual workout. It’s going to the gym and hitting all the equipment ... well, not like I have ever done anything like that. I suppose for a golfer like me, it would be like playing 18 holes on a mountain-goat course when the temperature is 30. At the end you are a ragged happy puddle. Happy - especially if you have logged the odd par along the way.
At the most I can absorb no more than five to seven pages of FOAD at a sitting. This stuff is substantial meat, deeply caloric: a medium-rare marbled rib-eye spilling off your plate. It fills the mind as the dulled teeth of semi-dormant spiritual brain cells grind their way through God-imbued fibres of saintly wisdom.
Last Thursday it was the chapter on Detachment. This was especially meaty, and I sighed contentedly as I munched my way through my bagel and the wisdom of the saints: "Everything that exists is a gift from God. Yet oftentimes we look to the things and creatures created by God for a satisfaction and fulfillment that only God can provide. When the soul wraps itself around the things and the people of this world, looking for a satisfaction and fulfillment that only God can give, it produces a distortion in itself. Many spiritual writers call the process of unwinding this possessive, self-centred, clinging, and disordered seeking of things and persons - detachment."
As if on cue, the weekly FOAD squirm commenced: Possessive? Who me? Self-centred? Clinging to what I want and when I want? Disordered seeking of things? Never. I gazed out the window and began to chuckle. Yeah, right - who am I kidding? Ralph and the Crew are talkin’ about me again. They’re always talking about me - on my case like kids on a pile of Smarties. I steeled myself and ploughed on:
Ralph: "Christian detachment is an important part of the process by which we enter into a realm of great freedom and joy." Not bad; not bad - joy’s easy to take.
Bernard: "Show me a soul who in work and leisure alike endeavors to keep God before his eyes, and walks humbly with the Lord his God, who desires that his will may be one with the will of God, and who has been given the grace to do these things." Me, me, pick me, Bernie! I want that! I really do.
Ralph expanding on Paul: "When we give time, attention, effort and affection to amassing and keeping the things of this world that we should give to God himself, we have become idolaters. We have certainly produced in ourselves a self-centered life, a dullness of spirit ..." Oh, oh ...
Francis: "You are truly avaricious if you longingly, ardently, anxiously desire to possess goods that you do not have ... If you find your heart very desolated and afflicted at the loss of property, believe me, you love it too much. The strongest proof of love for a lost object is suffering over its loss." But, but ... I needed that I-Pod so I could listen to spiritual talks; I didn’t ardently, anxiously desire to possess it ... honestly! Alright - well, maybe just a teensy bit. Okay, okay, I outright drooled over it on I-Pod.com for months - I’m just a materialistic slug. And yes, yes, dang it, I covet the darn thing ... I’m the full measure avaricious slug, hissing a mini-fit if I cannot find it.
Ralph: "The wealth that we have does not belong to us, but has been given to us by the Lord, in trust, to be utilized under His rule ... we must come to see reverses of fortune as opportunities to demonstrate true detachment and grow in humility and holiness."
Catherine: "Christians, in taking up the Cross of Christ, can taste something of the joy of heaven in this life; so too, those who choose to follow their sinful desires take up the devil’s cross and taste the pledge of hell even in this life. Unless they reform they go through life weakened in all sorts of ways ... "
I closed the book. Once again, Ralph and the gang had laid me waste. They’d made their weekly Thursday morning point. I shut my eyes, sighed, and admitted interiorly I was so not detached from "things and creatures". Even though I fancy I’m advancing, I know I’m, "the soul [that] wraps itself around the things and the people of this world, looking for a satisfaction and fulfillment that only God can give."
Detachment. I know I have an attachment to things and creatures, but, more so, I know I have an inordinate attachment to seeing the world unfold as I think it should. I believe it is more commonly known as always wanting to have things my way; hence the nickname given me by my mother when I was seven: Miss Bossy Boots --- and the Damoclean Sword of Bossy Boots has hung over my head ever since.
But grace is grace and does its work sometimes in spite of us. Despite the temptation to listen to my interior deny, deny, deny (the same heartfelt rally cry of insurance claim departments), I could feel the wisdom of these saints burrowing deeply into my conscience. As I drained the last of my coffee, I sensed my spine was stiffening. Were parts of the old me being buried? I set my jaw and muttered, "Bring on that detachment; I’m so ready." I stood up and strode out of Timmy’s - confident I was a new woman: an attachment wimp had entered Timmy's at 9:35, and a detached Popeye had popped rippling muscles by 10:30. Thanks be to Ralph and Crew --- and, of course, God, the Holy Spirit.
I got in my car and wheeled onto the freeway. Yes, I thought excitedly, I’m the new Detacho-Gal. Cool and collected. Nothing will shake me; nothing will fizz me. My mantra will be, "What is this in the light of eternity?" As I zipped happily along, I glanced in the rear view mirror. A tractor trailer was tailgating me, sitting three millimetres off my back bumper. The old me would think of ways to collect the telephone number from the side of his truck and call in his rudeness to tractor-trailer headquarters; instead, I smiled magnanimously in the mirror and murmured graciously, "My dear, dear truck driver, I am detached. I forgive you." A massive black BMW SUV with tinted windows cut me off on the off ramp ... ahh, but, I was a new woman, I was deeeeeee----tached! I waved cheerily, thinking, "Oh, poor dear - she’s probably taking her sainted sickly mother to the hospital."
Five minutes later I strolled into No Frills, the second leg of my Thursday morning ritual. Head high, gaze serene, I surveyed the harried grim grocery shoppers with a loving look tinged with a soupcon of pity. Alas, poor shoppers, not to have had the benefit of the wisdom of Ralph and the Crew. What? All out of the advertised Sunlight detergent? Not a problem. I was detached. And the only remaining Grade AAA Sirloin Tip Roast advertized at $3.19 kg. is 22 kg large and could feed a small country? Why, it’s nothing, nothing at all. I am detached. I’ll just wait for the next sale. All out of my favorite yogurt? No problemo! I am Detacho-Gal. And, only one tin of Finicky Feline Ocean Stinkfish cat food left (the only food Francis the Fat will eat)? That’s okay - I’ll cheerfully fight traffic and drop into Zehrs on the way home. Weaving my way through aisles I bestowed a pleasant calm countenance on all whom I passed.
When the last article had been deposited into my shopping cart I triumphantly turned the corner — only to run into a sea of parked carts. Every check-out had at least five filled-to-the-brim carts waiting and there was only a handful of checkout clerks on duty. Instantly I could feel the old fret-froth bubble up ... but — I reminded myself — I am detached. I am detached. I am detached-tached-tached! I forced the bubbling tizzy down my gullet and whipped out my cell to text my dh. Several minutes later I finished and looked up - four filled carts in front of me. But I had it under control; I was, after all, detached.
Ten minutes passed and there were three carts in front of me and three behind me when a No Frill check-out gal miraculously appeared, tapped the cart in front of me and sang out, "I’ll take from this cart back - come to Check-out #5!" Ah, yes, I murmured to myself, the fruits of detachment are rewarded! The lady in front of me slowly and carefully maneuvered her cart leftward to #5. I backed up to let her through, then laboriously turned my heavy cart around to follow her. By the time I got it swung round and aimed toward Check-out 5, the line behind me had filled in behind the lady formerly in front of me, everyone standing with their backs to me --- as if I were invisible. I had no choice except to move to the end.
Ah, but I was detached. Right? Wrong. Can we say interior apoplectic fit? Can one actually implode in a supermarket? All resolve, all serenity, and magnanimous brotherly love vanished as quickly as those bargain Grade AAA roasts from the store display cooler. I’d blown it. Detacho-Gal had lasted a whole 55 minutes.
I spent the next 15 minutes engaging in the interior warfare. Should I say something? Should I shut up? Should I mutter under my breath just loud enough to let others know I was fussed? Should I employ an exaggerated "what gives!" shrug. I tried my detachment mantras. Nothing. The Winnie-the-Poohvian balloon thundercloud remained parked over my head.
Eventually I managed to get myself out of the store intact. No implosion. No muttering. No confrontation. But I was mad. Mad, mad, mad! They had been rude. And I was madder still at how quickly I had crumbled. I had been tested and found to be a miserably pathetic specimen of detachment.
As I drove to work, I asked myself: did I pass any portion of the test? Well, yes - I guess. I did manage to keep my lips sealed - and to all outward appearances I possibly looked calm, albeit a bit surly. But it was the old man in me that had popped up again - wanting things to go my way - all the time - and having an interior tantrum when it didn’t.
I was comforted several days later when I read a passage from Mere Christianity by that dear font of Christian wisdom, C.S. [Jack] Lewis:
"This Helper [God] who will, in the long run, be satisfied with nothing less than absolute perfection, will also be delighted with the first feeble, stumbling effort you make tomorrow to do the simplest duty. As a great Christian writer (George MacDonald) pointed out, every father is pleased at the baby’s first attempt to walk: no father would be satisfied with anything less than a firm, free manly walk in a grown-up son. In the same way, he said, ‘God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy.’ " Thanks, Jack.
And thanks be to Him --- every day is a brand new day - and a fresh start - in God-land.