Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Not How, But Why

So I've been praying about how to "carry my Cross" in the real world... Jesus carried real lumber through the streets of Jerusalem that fateful Friday morning. He had endured an emotional evening, a night without sleep, hours of interrogation, scourging, mocking & beating. Both scripture & Tradition tell us He even needed help to complete the short trek to Calvary.

While I was considering these events, for some reason, the story of Jacob's wrestling match came to mind. The account can be found in Genesis 32:22-32. Jacob wrestled with "a man" throughout the night & wouldn't let him go until he blessed him. He wanted to know who this guy was. The man instead countered with a question: "Why do you want to know My Name?". In the end, He blessed Jacob & left him limping into the sunrise. We later find out the mysterious opponent was none other than God Himself.

I'm under the impression that carrying the Cross in the real world has something to do with the struggle to hold on- to believe & to live out that faith in the midst of everything going on around us. Apparently, we're supposed to be doing this every day... this dying "daily" as Paul implies in 1 Corinthians 15:31... this being "crucified with Christ" as he says in Galatians 2:19-20.  But if Jesus already went before us, why are we still called to take up our cross & follow Him to a kind of perpetual Calvary? Christ died for the world, but who is my "death" for?

There are no crowds shouting at me, no soldiers whipping me to get moving... I'm not hauling literal wood on my back. I'm on my own recognizance here. Why did Jacob wrestle with God that night? To get a blessing? Or was it something else? What's going to motivate me to hold on, to carry my cross? Perhaps Jesus would counter that question with His own: "Why do you want to know My Name?".

Sunday, October 18, 2015

So... This is Faith?

Last week before I left for work, I knelt down, made the sign of the Cross, had a few seconds of silence & opened up my prayer book. I gave a quick glance to Jesus, Mary & the crucifix, rambled through an Act of Contrition, a Morning Offering & a few other short "canned" prayers. I made sure to finish with some reverential silence & the sign of the Cross before going on with my day. I thought "So this is faith?". I felt like I was just reading the words out of the book...which felt kind of stupid. I didn't have the words to say either for or against the "defense" of my spirit that day and I hoped God would at least acknowledge my heart for trying.

Growing up, I was told that God won't acknowledge our prayers if we're not sincere. I was told I could even drive the Holy Spirit away if I harboured sin in my heart- He will flee because He can't stand the filth of my wickedness. But didn't Jesus say He wouldn't leave me orphaned or forsake me? Or was He just speaking to His disciples before His ascension?

Jesus ate & drank with "sinners" routinely. Am I any better or worse than them? The Bible says my body is a temple & I'm not to grieve the Holy Spirit, but I don't recall it saying anywhere that the Holy Spirit will abandon someone just for grieving Him. Didn't Jesus say its the sick who need a doctor? He never shied away from those who came to Him. Didn't the prodigal son demand His inheritance, squander it & come crawling back? And didn't the Father run to meet him when he returned? Is the Holy Spirit really any different?

I began to think about these things in relation to my faith now & realized its silly to believe that the Holy Spirit would just up & leave because of my sin. The Holy Spirit is a Comforter, a Counselor. What comforter or counselor who experiences crisis (big or small) would choose to abandon the situation? If the Holy Spirit truly "flew" away from us every time we sinned... what kind of help would that be? I'm inclined to believe He remains with us through thick & thin because that's precisely when we need Him most.

So yes, "this" is faith... for me, anyway. Its a moment by moment, struggling, doubting, hoping, doing-it-anyway kind of  faith. It routinely finds new ways to soil itself & ends up falling helpless into unseen arms... over & over again. It may mean praying words out of a book, or kneeling silently pondering why I'm kneeling silently... But ultimately, it always means turning back toward the One Who never leaves.


Saturday, October 17, 2015

X Marks the Spot

There is a popular image of a Cross shown stuck between 2 ledges, signifying a bridge for all people to be saved from death to life by "crossing" over a gap. I've never been fond of this image because the cross is always empty. I guess Christ on the Cross could be something of a hindrance to us, a type of stumbling block... and we can't have that, now can we? Its true that Christ died, was buried & rose again (thus leaving an empty Cross behind) but I believe the power of the Cross comes from Christ's presence on it, from the how & why & what He endured on it, not merely from the symbolism of the timbers He died upon. The Cross wasn't wedged into an crevice like a magical bridge. It was meant to be carried, not crossed. 

Many of us who "survived" the Christian culture of the late 20th /early 21st century have left the Cross behind. We believed we made it to the other side & our only goal was to heap up all sorts of spiritual gifts & blessings to spread to the world. Many of us were told to speak our desires & all would be done for us. That's what the Bible said afterall: "Ask & it will be given to you, seek & you will find, etc...". I don't remember hearing anything about suffering or sacrifice, but we used to memorize scripture & spout it at will at any & all of life's events... we thought we were shaking heaven, taking hold of the horns of the altar, sending thousands to flight & allowing God to "break us & make us" His beloved bride. We had our own lingo, our own understanding of things. Bible study, all night prayer meetings & professional worship musicians took to the stage to lead us into ecstasy... all these were designed to set us on fire for God so we could change the world! Looking back, quite honestly, it all seems like an emotional crock of bull.

Consider this: yes, the Bible was indeed "God breathed" (that is, written by men who were inspired by God), but we forget those men were essentially spiritual masters. They had been close to God & "living it" for decades before anything got written down. Rejoicing in suffering, loving one another, showing deference to the outcast, being self sacrificing & such for the cause of Christ- all these things had become second nature to them because they had been doing it for years. This stuff was ingrained in them. But somehow we expected to find ourselves able to achieve their way of life simply by reading, meditating & practicing it over a few days, weeks or months. No wonder many of us felt like failures. No wonder many of us struggled to find the life the changing substance our faith promised. No wonder it seemed like all some of us got out of the deal was a bunch of head knowledge. I'm not bitter, just a little more world wise & weary now.

Catholics, by the way, aren't exempt. When I became a Catholic, I thought for sure things would be different. They seemed to "get it". They spoke of suffering. They had Christ on the Cross in their churches... Devotions like the Rosary, the Stations of the Cross, liturgical seasons, they all point to Jesus' life, death & resurrection. But even as a Catholic, substance eludes me. I have a sneaking suspicion it might have something to do with the Cross... or lack thereof.

We are never to put the Cross behind us. It must be the focal point, not a happy memory or a background image on our screensaver. We must be aware of it at all times like a nagging pain. Its not our magical bridge to salvation, its our X marks the spot & we are to carry it with us wherever we go. Didn't Jesus say "Where your heart is, there your treasure will be also."? What have I been pursuing all this time? Spiritual gifts & blessings? What for? Without the Cross to stake the claim to the real treasure, I'm left spiritually destitute, grasping at air. I used to hear the saying: "Christ died on the Cross so you wouldn't have to". But when did Jesus ever imply that? I've come to the conclusion that its exactly what He wanted... and now comes the hard part... moving beyond the words. What does carrying the Cross mean for me?

Friday, October 16, 2015

Prie-Dieu Milieu

So I finally did it- I went & bought a prayer kneeler last month. If you've ever looked into such a thing, you know it can be a pricey venture. It has many different names: prayer kneeler, prayer desk, prayer bench, Prie Dieu, etc. Unless you find an old one that's beat to heck or have the know how to DIY, a realistic starting price can be anywhere from $75 to hundreds of dollars. It all depends on if it's old or new, if it's fixed or it folds, if you want cloth or upholstered padding, if you want a flat top or a slant top. It can come with a shelf or no shelf, be any kind of wood, varnish, or have a symbol (like a cross or a chi rho) carved into it. The more you want, the more you pay.

Now why on earth would anyone want to spend money on such a thing when you can just kneel at your bed or by a chair? Granted, I personally wouldn't be able to justify spending $100 or more for a new kneeler, let alone a used one. Unless it's going in a church for the use of many, it seems like an unnecessary cost for personal use. I happened to be looking online & spotted someone selling theirs for $40. The curse of someone else's illness became my blessing.

I know it doesn't make me any more holy than the guy who kneels by his bed or the gal who prays in her car on her lunch break. It's simply a tool to assist in prayer. Unfortunately, it tends to be an expensive one only precious few can afford. When you think about it, cost alone seems to pit the idea of the prayer kneeler against everything Jesus taught us about simplicity & a spirit of poverty.  Does that make it "right or wrong" to have one? I don't know. I've spent more to go on church retreats & conferences in the past... was that right or wrong? Sometimes I find the logic difficult to reconcile.

I do know that the palette of distraction I would normally encounter while praying in a chair or at my bedside is significantly diminished when my knees hit the pad. The kneeler lives directly behind my bedroom door & practically calls me to prayer before I leave in the morning & before I go to bed at night. C.B. Chamber's Jesus & Mary & a small resin crucifix provide limited focal points. I keep my Mass readings, a prayer book & Liturgy of the Hours on the shelf. A rosary rests in a tiny terra cotta planter dish on top. I don't read/pray with any one book every day & I'm never there for very long. Sometimes I just end up kneeling in silence, but I always walk away having had a sense of connection... kind of like when someone you know catches your eye & smiles at you from across a crowded room.