Reason and Sacrifice

YOKE blog post 2-27-15 fast

“If it were easy, it wouldn’t be a sacrifice,” my older son said to me this weekend.

And that is simply true. It is early in Lent, and Easter looks a long distance away.

Yet onward with this fast.

Why am I fasting? I have some good reasons – it is traditional, it frees some funds for charity, I need to lose 20 pounds to lessen the burden on my arthritis damaged hips and feet.

It gives my body a break from rich food, alcohol, sugar and meat.

Reasons, good reasons.

Sometimes we don’t have a “good” reason for fasting, though, in the fasting seasons. And then we should simply fast, cutting out meat, dairy, fish, sugar, alcohol. We live for a few weeks the way many people in the world must live all the time.

Sometimes the reason for the fast is simply obedience.

See more at The YOKE: http://www.theyoke.org

Trinity Spiral

Trinity spiral

 

sweet journey into the heart,  this inward path

living water flowing from chaos into order

since the first word of creation

an eternity that holds itself as more than a progression of days

days that are One Day days that flow back to the Day of Divine Rest

it is finished and is always creation creating

under the hand of the Maker

(This post is in response to a graphic provided by my partner in ministry, Fr. Larry Woodsmall of the YOKE – http://www.theyoke.org – as an exercise in new creative prayer.)

 

The Virtue of Good-natured Patience

iowa city winter_walkwayI work in a restaurant. I alternate between the back of house as a prep cook and the front of house, taking orders from guests and facilitating the staff who are serving and cashiering that day. At the back of the house there is the usual kitchen atmosphere, with people rushing around at the height of our service hours, and a lonely lull while I dice, stir and portion.

I expect my co-workers and managers to be a bit wound up when we are really busy. I even expect that sometimes they will be less than polite and patient. I try to cope with that by meeting their expectations beforehand, working to stay an hour to a day ahead of demand. I prepare the food and put it where they can expect to find it. If I fall behind, then they, in all fairness, can come to me and tell me what they need and when they need it – which is usually “now.” A big part of my kitchen job is planning what needs to be prepared in what order, and allotting appropriate time to it.

I have to be the patient one in this, patient with their demands, calm in the face of a storm that is brewing almost every shift. It requires balancing a hundred details in my mind; if I lose my cool, it will all fall apart for everyone. I sometimes have to stand up to competing demands, and explain what is being done at what time, and how their needs can be facilitated. That usually means stating simply, “I won’t get to that for 30 minutes. If you need it now, if there is none left from the last shift, then you will have to do it yourself.” And because we intend to keep working together without throwing plates, soup pots or knives at each other, we maintain a patient degree of sanity and reason.

white house kitchen 1892

It would be so much better if customers would be as patient with us. While we are not a cordon bleu kitchen, we are not a fast-food chain. Quick service means that there is a limited menu, and most items are prepared to some degree to be finished as ordered. The wait is not 30 minutes, but it is not three minutes, either.

But rather than an apologetic for our service philosophy, I am writing of my concern that many people are impatient with our service, and the service in other retail places. Why are we all demanding that food be instantly placed before us? Why are we demanding to have what we want, when we want it, which is right now? The patience people employ when service is not instantly given is a tightly wound, judgmental containment.

There is a strong virtue in good-natured patience.

Usually we experience a temperamental patience that is mere polite holding of the tongue while impatient. It means the bearer of the patient situation is internalizing the stress of that situation, that one is being imposed upon by having to wait. It is a self-focussed thought process; the self is too impatient to give other people the courtesy of time.

Simply put, without all the semiotics and philosophy: Some people consider themselves too important to have to wait in the ordinary course of events.  They frown, cross their arms, say things like, “No, it’s all right, I can wait a few minutes.”

There are people who smile, and say, “Oh, I quite understand, so sorry I have to put you to this trouble, it seemed like such a simple thing to ask for.”

And what they mean is that they did not want to invest fifteen minutes in waiting for what is essentially a complicated process. They become patronizing, and they may smile, but their body language says that they are annoyed and impatient, even if the delay is because of their misunderstanding. Those who endure a situation requiring patience are the ones who criticize later. The wait staff was slow but couldn’t help it because of personal failings. (I have been called stupid in different ways, even by seemingly patient customers.) these same people may say of their secretary that they put up with her despite her ineffectiveness, and they say it with a smile, being long-suffering saints in the office.

Good-natured patience could is entering a situation with an open mind, adapting quickly to circumstances, and adjusting expectations to fit the event as one finds it. Really, it is better to say to oneself, in a busy restaurant, “I know I don’t have the time to wait, so I will go elsewhere today.” If the wait staff or manager asks why you are leaving before being served, a gentle explanation is all that is necessary: “I didn’t expect it to be so busy today, and I have limited time. I understand that not everyone can be served at once, so I will come back some other time.” The angry patience of standing in line, staring at one’s watch, infects those waiting and those serving. It does make the situation worse.

goodbreadrecipe2Christian good-natured patience is entering every moment with an open heart. It is standing in the Kingdom wherever we are. It is a pervasive understanding that one is not the most important individual everywhere; it is humility. Christians practice a patience that knows of the mysterious and great work of God, from the natural cycle of the seasons and bringing forth fruit, to the realisation that all that is good happens in God’s time, not ours. That time might be right now, or it might be what seems to be a long delay.

I was not a patient Christian in earlier years. I am not well-known for my patience now. But I am beginning to understand the great patience of God, who does not give up on his creation, especially humanity, which has been so wayward for so long. We love God, and yet we do not like to wait for his plans to unfold. We confuse the things of this world that we covet with the good gifts God gives us. We want a reward we can see, eat, touch, and spend like cash.

The patience of Christ is the patience of the athlete, working day by day to build a better body, more strength, more accuracy, more speed. The patience of Christ is the patience of a woman expecting a child, living through the weeks as everything about her changes.

Be patient with other people. Be patient in love, in the very moment in which we are living. Be patient with yourself, and happy that God is seeing fit to make us all like himself.

Plain and Maintain

DSC01152When I became Plain, friends asked me how I could give up the “fun” of fashion and shopping. I didn’t think of it as giving up fun, but as finding peace. I was no longer bound to the anxiety of styling my hair, buying clothes, managing an extensive (closets, people, CLOSETS) wardrobe, and “watching” my weight. I had the fun of sewing, choosing fabrics that are suitable and of good quality, and of being confident that in all occasions, I was appropriately dressed. I no longer worry about the ups and downs of weight gain and loss triggered by a chronic illness. My hair is gloriously long and gloriously weaving silver strands amongst the chestnut red and brown. I don’t spend anything on cosmetics and jewelry. I have no valuables to lose, I don’t have to replace clothes because they are no longer suitable to the fashion. I have freedom. The price of being a clotheshorse was not only the hit to the credit card, but the constant level anxiety of trying to look good. That anxiety is gone, and I resent it when people tell me I should have it back, and give up Plain in the way I express it. Am I sometimes “mistaken” for a nun? Yes, but that isn’t really a mistake, as I belong to a religious order. Am I sometimes mistaken for Amish? Yes, but that is no insult, to be “mistaken” for a woman of peace. To be a woman of peace is my goal.

Currently, I have to wear a uniform at work. I don’t really like the uniform, but it is part of restaurant culture. I do it. I keep it as simple as possible. It seems to be an accepted part of modern life, that many of us require special clothes for work. And then I do wear a “uniform” the rest of the time – the simple Plain dress and kapp, or the habit. Plain is more than having just a few choices of clothes. Jeans and a sweater are not Plain, unless that is one’s expression of Kingdom living. Mere simplicity is beneficial, yet there is a deeper spirituality to Plain.

Hermosa House Julie Larry and Iska May 2014

I have come to love the habit. It is what I have been longing for, in my heart, walking under the protection of the roof of the Church. It tells people who I am and what I am at a quick glance, just as the architectural vernacular of “church” is expressed in formal ways. The form follows function, in that it is modest, easy to make (really), and yet complicated enough to remind one that in essence, the wearer is cloistered, set aside, protected, while still serving God in the world. The head covering is our protection, and the sign of prayer, much as a bell tower or steeple is. The scapular is a narthex, covering all that is within, and our yoke to bear for Christ. The long tunic unites all dedicated religious, the nave of the church. No matter what we are inside, no matter what tribulations and wounds we have borne, we are included in that body. Whether we wear shoes or we are discalced (wearing sandals, or barefoot), we do so with simplicity and practicality. My shoes are all functional and very plain, good quality, and bought to last for years. Every piece of jewelry I wear now has religious significance – cross, St. Michael’s medal, holy images. Plain is how I express living in God’s Kingdom. I have left this fallen world, and while I am still in battle to keep it from overwhelming my one small castle, I am secure within its walls.

Teresa of Ávila, Roman Catholic saint and mystic, wrote extensively on mystical union, once writing, "If Christ Jesus dwells in a man as his friend and noble leader, that man can endure all things, for Christ helps and strengthens us and never abandons us. He is a true friend."

 

Happiness

 

lake with ducks wikimedia

Happiness, gratitude, joy: Words that are bubbling through social media, in publications and in books currently on the best selling list. As Christians, how can we be concerned for these, while serving Christ fully?

There is no wrong in being happy, feeling grateful, or looking for joy. The real concern for Christians is that we displace our dependency on and faith in God while seeking these pleasures. While all measures of such positive emotions must be, in some way, a gift from God, we are concerned principally with receiving these graces directly from God, and not from our own selfish pursuits.

I could not avoid Victoria Osteen’s words on happiness and God. Many Christians were shocked, or at least troubled, by them. Here is a quote from the broadcast, purportedly Mrs. Osteen’s words:

“I just want to encourage everyone of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God – I mean, that’s one way to look at it – we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we’re happy.

“So I want you to know this morning: Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?”

Of course, there is a huge problem in that first sentence. Yes, obeying God, when we are doing it, in an important way, is for God. It is for “our own good” in another way, but certainly not to make us happy, as in having pleasant emotions. Eventually, obedience to God will give us happiness, and more, but first, we must pass through a lot of negative emotions. The fear and uncertainty is to cleanse our spirit of sin and our inevitable loss of God when are main concern is to seek our own happiness. Obedience to God does not change God, or make His life easier; God does not need us in that way. We please God to walk in His way, which is the way that leads to peace, true love, and spiritual maturity. Obedience to God is to further the very real goal we have with Him, to “build His Kingdom” by keeping temptation and sin at bay.

Does God take pleasure in our happiness? The Bible would seem to say that God takes pleasure in our obedience, as we pray, study His word, and follow His commandments. Happiness as in seeking pleasure, in pleasing ourselves, even if it costs others peace, happiness and comfort, is not according to God’s will. That kind of happiness is merely selfishness, a childish desire to meet our whims and petty desires.

There could be a married couple, where the husband has taken money committed to supporting the family, and purchased something that fulfills a desire he has had, something like a sports car, or a cruise. He is incredibly pleased with this, but his wife is appalled. The money had been meant for education, or a new house, or their retirement. The husband is happy; the wife and family can share this new experience and perhaps they will get some pleasure from it. Still, the husband’s immediate happiness and anticipated pleasure has robbed the family of some security, or even thwarted a plan to improve the family’s life overall. A car or a cruise would not be a bad thing in itself. He didn’t buy anything dangerous or illegal. yet the family will suffer longterm for his decision to make himself happy.

Does worship make God happy? Many times, God condemned Israel for their empty ceremonies. Paul admonishes the churches for being more concerned about putting on a show and having a feast than in praying and expressing gratitude to God. The people attending these ceremonies and gatherings may have been very happy in that experience. They may have been even ecstatic, dancing and singing, crying out in unknown languages, overwhelmed by the excitement and attention.

storm clouds wikimedia

I Kings 9: So He said, “Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”…

The wind, earthquake and fire whirling around Elijah were not God. The still small voice that whispered directly in the prophet’s ear was God. Elijah was expecting the quiet voice; the excitement was something else. The noise and shaking were a response to the presence of God, but not God.

Happiness is like that. Pleasure is one thing God uses to drive us closer to Him, to announce His presence. Humans, though, have corrupted that pleasure, and we can find it in things, places and sensations that God would not give to us. The pleasure of sin is short-lived. It will fail us. Seeking pleasure in consumption, in gaining power, or in idleness is sin. It will, in the end, ruin us for God’s ultimate purpose, which is to bring us to Himself.

Even attending church and enjoying what seems innocent and enlightening can separate us from the love of God. If we turn our attention to those who claim to be teaching God but are only teaching about themselves, we will fall into sin. We will share the hubris – destructive pride – of those who misuse God’s name to gain the pleasures of this world.

When I saw Victoria Osteen’s words on God and happiness, my first thought was, “Tell that to the martyrs.” These witnesses of the faith did not serve God by being happy. My guess is that they were often unhappy, as they were imprisoned, hunted, interrogated or tortured, and then killed. There is no real pleasure in that. I believe, too, that those who are martyred for faith often had an incredible, indescribable joy. They received the best gift from God in that, a consolation that they were close to Him, in His presence, as they found courage in the Holy Spirit. They had the peace that passes all understanding even as they were in pain, hungry, wounded and frightened.

Westminster_Abbey_C20th_martyrs wikipedia

Joy is not just happiness. Happiness can be as fleeting as eating an ice cream cone on a hot, sunny day. Happiness can be the mere moments we lose our concerns and worry while watching a comedy or reading an exciting book. There is nothing wrong with that kind of happiness, as long as we don’t think that is all the happiness we need. That kind of happiness becomes addictive, and we need more and more to even begin to feel happy in it. True happiness never takes from others, or puts our own pleasure above theirs. Mere pleasurable happiness is not going to lead to joy.

The joy we find in God is not something we can turn on and off. We can’t go shopping for joy. Joy is like stepping into a beautiful lake to swim, at the right time of day, and finding that is the right temperature, the right depth. The same lake may not yield that pleasure of rightness every day; we can even go and merely sit on its shores some days. Yet it is always there, and when the great confluence of grace and heart meet, God and His loving, humble creature, we are bathed in those joyful waters.

Victoria Osteen’s words on happiness may have been careless, spoken more in enthusiasm and a desire to please than in a wickedness to turn us from the way of God. Personally, I ignore anything Joel and Victoria Osteen say. Their way of living and their public presence do not seem, to me, to be the way to God. Their speeches and sermons are empty words. Don’t be deceived, but do not treat them with contempt and hatred. Don’t be envious of their success, as it is merely worldly. All pleasure that is not of God is a millstone around the neck. Praise, fame, admiration, riches and possessions are a puff of smoke in eternity. Many follow these people and have made them rich. But to say that is the reward God has given them is to say that those beloved of God who professed Christ in pain, poverty and death are wrong, and we know this is not truth.

 

Lent and Ash Wednesday

After the Misdeed Jean Beraud

Ash Wednesday is this week; this means beginning the Lenten disciplines. In this world where there is a huge gap between those of us who HAVE and the many, many who HAVE-NOT, fasting is a necessary discipline. First, it teaches us to do without, because in every life there are seasons of having less than we need, whether it is food or love; second, it puts us in solidarity with the poor, who daily suffer a lack of necessities; third, by cutting back what we spend on food, we have more money to share with those whose income does not meet their need. Keep the fast: Vegan and vegetarian meals, substituting beans and legumes for protein, with rice and whole grains and simply prepared vegetables. If fruit is expensive, skip it. Make time to cook and bake for yourself, which means giving up other pursuits like television, computer games and shopping. Go to church and pray regularly, so that your fast is not just self-congratulatory acts. The money you are not spending on groceries and self-indulgences then goes to a charity, or directly to the poor.

  • I am not open to hearing any excuses or exceptions. If you must make them, do not lessen the resolve and dedication of others, so keep them to yourself.
    Carnival Mary Cassatt
  •  Anyone who even brings up Shrove Tuesday pancake suppers will be given a penance. My experience with Shrove Tuesday pancake suppers is that more people come to them than will attend church throughout Lent. No fast, no feast.