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Ow.  Beth calls me out:

I was all revved to see your various deep theological thoughts this season but thus far we’ve really just seen various breaks from the same. And here is where I would break the strict no emoticon rule and make a smiley face. Or perhaps a winky one, depending on how facetious my fingers were feeling.

Guilty as charged.  I’ve been posting mostly silly stuff lately because I haven’t felt ready to put into words what’s really going on.   Now that I’ve been tagged, I’ll give it a first try.  So remember before you read on that you asked for it.

Regular readers will recall that about a month ago I was toying with the idea of having a mid-life crisis or, as I like to put it to myself, of going slightly mad.  I suppose I may go ahead and say here that on further reflection I decided to adopt such a scheme.

No, I haven’t gone and bought a bright red sports car.  No, I’m not planning to go sky-diving or mountain-climbing, or join a “men’s group”, or have an affair with a 20-something floozy, or start pumping prozac, viagra and hair-restorers.  Instead, it’s something closer to finally ceasing to give a damn what anyone else thinks about what I am or what I think or what I do, to stop feeling so bloody guilty about everything all the time, and to start concentrating on what I think are the important things, and dealing with them in the manner that I think is best.

Now most people, including Mrs. R and some others in my immediate circle, are under the impression that my MLC is centering around the usual cliches  – financial and professional worries; fears about how the kids are turning out; dissatisfaction with the level of “fun” I am or feel I ought to be enjoying in life; dismay at the first, faint rumblings of approaching mortality.   And I suppose that’s understandable.  After all, these are the sorts of things that concern most people.  Further, I simply have not talked very much about it to anyone, so those around me are forced to rely largely on guesswork.   (Despite my loqacious posting, I am in real life quite reticent about this sort of thing.)

So, you may be asking, what’s been happening?  Well, externally, as I say, not much.  I still get up and go to work and come home and take care of my domestic responsibilities about the same as I had before.  True, I’ve knocked off the gargle (but that’s a whole different subject).  I’ve also stepped up my exercise regime significantly.  I’m eating less and have toned up markedly.  On the other hand, I nearly passed out on the metro yesterday morning and haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in six weeks.  Oh, and despite the fact that I really probably need one….I haven’t had a haircut in some time.

But internally, that’s where it has got complicated.  I’ve still got a long way to go in this matter, but I can say that I’ve definitely taken the first steps toward unclenching, to clearing out all the cobwebs that I’ve allowed to build up over all these years.   Now Rome wasn’t built in a day and I don’t expect my soul’s lumber room to be cleared out in a short period either, but I’ve made a start.   And so far I’ve found that while this process is refreshing, it is also quite terrifying in a way – to suddenly be deprived of the usual psychic landmarks gives one the sensation of one’s world being turned quite upside down.  Mrs. R has been using words like “sad” and “in a slump” to describe me of late, but that really isn’t right.  Instead, I’ve been feeling more withdrawn from the world, more turned-in as it were, as I’ve started wrestling with these matters.

So where does the “deep theological thought” come in to all of this? Well, I’ll tell you.  As I say above, I’m not really concerned with the normal mid-life crisis fodder at this point.  Instead, it goes much deeper, which means that I have been concentrating on the spiritual side.  And in the week or two prior to Lent, I was rayther concerned.  On the one hand, I was longing for the season to begin, feeling that with all my faults and weaknesses and problems that if I could just scrape through for a few more days, I would land where I could find comfort through penitence.   (Yes, of course it is always there.  But what I wanted was the (pardon my slang) industrial strength version brought about by all the formal and ritualistic trappings, starting with the imposition of the ashes.)  On the other hand, I was feeling so discomboluted that I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to get sufficiently set to seriously undertake this exercise.  After all, one can’t even begin to think about scrubbing the walls, floors and windows before one has got all the furniture out of the way.

So last Wednesday, I duly went to early Mass and, later in the day, plunged into my Lenten reading list.  As I noted in a comment over at the Bovina Bloviator’s in response to his own similar milestone, this was my first Ash Wednesday as a Catholic.  I recall last year being most concerned with the Church itself, since after months of RCIA classes things were suddenly beginning to come together in preparation for my swim across the Tiber.  This time, after a year’s experience under my belt, I was thinking less about the building, as it were, and more about what I was supposed to be doing inside of it.   And to be perfectly honest, the concerns I had been feeling prior to Lent about my own state going into it seemed at least in part justified: I came out knowing that I was still somewhat distracted; that I had not maybe paid as much attention as I perhaps could have; that despite my fiddling with the knobs on my soul, I was not  yet dialed in to the great spiritual wavelength, but instead was still receiving a good bit of static.

But over the weekend, I began to notice something.

I duly went to Mass again on Sunday, of course.  In the meantime, I have been reading B-16’s Introduction to Christianity, Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and, as noted yesterday, the Gospels.  I’ve also been praying every morning and evening by means of a Daily Office SSF given me by the Abbot a couple years ago, now.

And you know what? It’s all starting to have an effect.

Let me see if I can explain this in a somewhat different way.  I don’t have it in front of me, but if you’ve read Sebastian Junger’s A Perfect Storm, you will recall that there is a passage wherein he describes the way various meteorological factors come together to generate a nor’easter or other weather phenomena.   And whenever I’ve read that passage, I’ve had something of a shiver at the point where I suddenly sense from his description the incredible scope and strength of the dynamics involved, the literal movement of the entire sky.  It always invokes in me a sense of awe and wonder.

Now….take that idea and magnify it exponentially.  Here, instead of reading one author describing a terrestrial weather pattern, I am instead reading multiple authors – literally spread out over nearly 2000 years – all writing about Something above and beyond the very cosmos itself.  And that Something is not just a physical phenomenon, but a Spirit, a Thought, the Good.  In my reading, coupled with my private prayers and corporate worship,  I am beginning to get the shivers again as I finally find myself contemplating, well, God.  And part of teh shivery is based on the knowledge that what I am capable of sensing is nothing more than an echo of a whisper of the faintest breath of the Almighty.   As I recall my Saint Anselm, God is “that than which nothing greater can be imagined.”  The pure grandeur of even that small part of Him that I can grasp is almost overwhelming, as is the knowledge that I occupy a mere iota of time and space somewhere way out at the end of one of the minor capillaries of the great living thing called Creation that He brought into existence.

However, lest you start tut-tutting that I am worried about my own insignificance, I should also mention the flip side of my thought.  There is no microscopic dot on a microscopic dot with a sign reading “You Are Here” in my view.  This is no soul-destroying Total Perspective Vortex.  Douglas Adams made the mistake of thinking that beyond the Universe was nothing but void.  I, on the other hand, am finally coming around to the realization that even if I only occupy a single iota of time and space, that iota is also infused with His presence and that, in His scales, it is just as important as any other part of Creation.   Mom always used to get very upset at me for, in effect, not allowing God to love me.  I suppose, as I write all this out, that I am finally coming around to letting Him in.

In other words, I am now engaged in some serious attitude adjustment.

Now this is a very crude and inadequate description of what I’m thinking, and I suppose there is nothing particularly deep in any of my musings, but there it is.   And what I am hoping will come of this particular Lenten season is that as I chuck out all the worldly baggage I’ve been carrying around, I replace it with priorities of a more worthwhile sort and that these priorities will infuse my worldly existence with, if you’ll pardon the hideous cliche, a deeper meaning. I know, of course, that to make even a slight advance is going to require a tremendous amount of hard work,  and I also know that I, of course, will never reach a point where I can say, “Yep, we’re done.”  I know that there will be many slips and setbacks and defeats and reversions to old, bad habits.   But that doesn’t mean I won’t keep at it.

There, now.  Aren’t you glad you asked?


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March 2009