Saturday, January 26, 2013

God Smacks

This is my reaction to last Sunday's Gospel reading at my church.  I was so moved by Fr. Francis's sermon that I searched through the cough drop wrappers, the hair bands, the left handed gloves, and other mommy-purse detritus for a writing implement (red Sharpie) and something to write on (bulletin insert from the previous week).  The reading from last week was the story of the Wedding Feast at Cana (scroll down the page for the Gospel reading).  So (and forgive me, Lord), "ho hum" -- we've all heard it before.... blah blah blah, Jesus's first miracle, listened to his mamma and did what she asked, water into wine, etc. etc. etc."  Until Fr. Francis started to unpack this for us. (Notice the TWO BY FOUR!!! comment at the bottom of the page there?).  In case you can't read my scrawl (a very likely possibility since I was writing only for myself and with Sharpie using a soft-cover missalette and my knee as a desk), I said:

Ask God to change water into wine for you.  Wedding feast at Cana shows that we have a miracle working God and God doesn't change.  He can do miracles in your life.  Always come to God with whatever questions you have.  Whatever we ask God in faith, we will receive.

This God smack was another in series that really started last week at my School of Community.  I heard someone whom I don't know all that well allude to a moment of humiliation that he'd experienced years and years ago --  a moment of humiliation that was, in the scheme of things, small.  And yet, it bothered him; more accurately, it upset him that this moment still stung many years later.  He couldn't figure out why it still mattered to him; he didn't know what God was asking for him to do with this moment and with his continuing reaction to it. 

I offered something from my heart that I truly meant but that, as I was speaking, I realized that I don't apply to myself.  I told this man something like:

maybe God wants you to regard that person that you were in that moment of humiliation with the same sense of love and tenderness and compassion that He does. Maybe God wants you to regard this moment and its recurring effect on you as an opportunity to know his love.  Look at yourself with mercy and not with judgement.  Know that this is how God looks at you, with such tenderness for your pain and sorrow, even over something that is insignificant.  Because, if it is significant to you, it's significant to him....

As I struggled to finish what I was saying without starting to cry, I reflected also on the reading we were discussing, from Luigi Guissani's At the Origin of the Christian Claim.  In it, Fr. Guissani says, in discussing "The Value of the Person":

A fundamental factor of Jesus' outlook is the existence in man of a reality superior to any other reality subject to time and space.  The whole world is not as worthy as the most insignificant human person.  Nothing in the entire universe can compare with a person, from the first instant of his conception until the last step of his decrepit old age. Every man possesses within himself a principle by which he depends on no one, a foundation of inalienable rights, a fount of values.

It occurred to me as I was reading this passage in preparation and as it was being read to me within School of Community that I intellectually assent to this statement.  I can build castles in the air as to why it's based in natural law, Greek philosophy, Christian theology, and scientific fact -- my excellent and (by the way truly life-changing) education at the University of Dallas gave me the tools to do that with ease.  But I don't regularly act as if I assent to this idea when it comes to myself.  I can look at others -- my husband, my children, my relatives and friends, and even strangers who touch  my life only briefly and see that they are absolutely unique, miraculous, awe-inspiring  creatures. 

But, me, well, I'm okay but I need a lot of work.

Just now, I started to write, "I suppose I need to try harder to be more cognizant of the reality that this unique value also applies to me." but even this is not what I mean.  What I mean is that I am trying to rest in the knowledge that this does apply to me, whether or not I am a nice person, whether or not I am successful in work, or have a neat and clean home, or good and virtuous children, or damnit, whether I lose the weight I need to lose for reasons of health and functioning. 

I need to rest in (not strive for) the knowlege that I myself am the protagonist in Psalm 139, that David sings with my voice:

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

More on this in another post on yoga, breathing, and reading.  I asked my husband for some time to write tomorrow (read:  please take the children out) and he sweetly agreed....

Monday, January 21, 2013


I sat in our parish's Eucharistic Adoration Chapel today and really bawled -- the kind of crying you're ashamed of, afraid of, embarrassed with, the kind that leaves you full of mucous and salty tears and with blotchy skin and swollen eyes. 

I'd been scared of writing this post all day because I'd led my readers (you two know who you are) to expect something LIFE CHANGING.  I didn't want to disappoint, but was (and still am)  afraid, because saying what is on my heart is genuinely frightening and full of the dangers of being misunderstood or thought silly or arrogant or stupid or superstitious or gullible. 

I'd spent a lovely morning with my sister (the Frankenstein caller) whom I love so dearly and who has been a real companion to me in my weight loss struggles and in my larger life.  We rushed home so that I could take Chickadee #1 to Irish Dance.  I dropped her off and thought I'd pay a quick visit to the chapel instead of going home.  I thought I'd pray for wisdom and eloquence, maybe write a little.  I didn't imagine that within five minutes I'd be crying out, literally, "Okay, I get it.  I don't know how this is going to help me, but I believe that it will.  I really believe it will." (Thank goodness the Chapel was empty!)

It's very hard for me to sit still, to quiet my mind and just be before God in the Eucharist.  Usually I swing through the adjacent parish library before entering the Chapel, just so that I have something to focus on as I try to settle down.  Today, I picked up a photo/essay book by Henri J.M. Nouwen called With Open Hands I probably chose it because, years ago, the sister I saw today gave everyone in the family a copy of Fr. Nouwen's book (I think it was Life of the Beloved).  I opened it to the first essay, called "With Clenched Fists" and read....

Praying is no easy matter.  It demands a relationship in which you allow the other to enter into the very center of your person, allow him to speak there, allow him to touch the sensitive core of your being, and allow him to see so much that you would rather leave in darkness.  And when do you really want to do that?  Perhaps you would let the other come across the threshold to say something, to touch something, but to let him into that place where your life gets its form, that is dangerous and calls for defense....

The man invited to pray is asked to open his tightly clenched fists and to give up his last coin.  But who wants to do that?  A first prayer, therefore, is often a painful prayer, because you discover you don't want to let go.  You hold fast to what is familiar, even if you aren't proud of it.  You find yourself saying: "That's just how it is with me.  I would like to be different, but it can't be now.  That's just the way it is, and that's the way I'll have to leave it."  Once you talk like that you've already given up belief that your life might be otherwise, you've already let the hope for a new life float by.  Since you wouldn't dare to put a question mark behind a bit of your own experience with all its attachments, you have wrapped yourself up in the destiny of facts.  You feel it is safer to cling to a sorry past than to trust in a new future.  So you fill your hands with small clammy coins which you don't want to surrender."

That's where I lost it.  I'm close to losing it now, because this passage so clearly speaks to my experience and because it is it the latest in a series in which God is hitting me upside the head with a two-by-four. 

I think this is going to have to be a three-part series because chickadee #2 is freaking out, hungry for dinner.....

Two by fours

I've been avoiding this blog.  Never prolific, my posts have become almost nonexistent.  But, behind the scenes, I've been working hard, trying to figure this whole thing out.  Since writing the post I published earlier today (I started it but forgot to hit the 'publish' button), I've kind of been working on the same set of issues.

For me, weight loss has never been as easy as "eat less/move more".  Last year, when I was seeing my lovely nutritional counselor, she kept bringing me back to how judgemental I am of myself, my progress, my body, my weight.  I never really got that -- to me, I was looking truthfully at myself and my actions.  If those actions were "good", I was willing to acknowledge that and, if they were bad, I was bound to acknowledge that, too.  I never really understood that what she meant was that I should remove ALL value judgements from this area of my life and my being.  I should just observe and acknowledge, not "code" things as bad or good.  That little revelation cost me a lot, mentally and emotionally.  I'm still not there, but I'm trying.

Before my husband and I started dating, we used to go out as part of an "after work" crowd of young professionals.  One evening, encouraged by Bulmer's cider, I was joking about my dateless state (.75 dates per year for the previous ten years) and saying that a huge part of the problem was that I had no clue if someone liked me.  "You'd have to hit me upside the head with a two-by-four for me to pick up on someone's interest," I laughed.  Months later, when he first asked me out, I was (adorably, of course) clueless.  After several attempts to make it clear that he was actually asking me out, he looked at me sardonically and said, "Consider this your two-by-four." 

Reader, I married him. 

Well, at this stage, I think that God might be feeling a bit like my husband did on that occasion.  I mean, how clueless can this girl be?  God keeps hitting me over the head with multiple two-by-fours to get me to understand what he wants from me in regard to myself.  I continue to perversely revel in self hatred.  But it's complicated.

My perception of my body has never been simple or even utilitarian.  Although I don't remember it, my first awareness of myself as a physical being was entwined with pain and loneliness.  As I mentioned, premature babies born in the 1960s were kept in incubators and parents were not encouraged or allowed to touch or hold their children very much.  My mother recently told me that, when I was in the hospital as a newborn, she didn't even feel like she had a baby because she saw me so seldom.

After I came home the first time, I went in and out of the hospital several times.  I was in a brace for months and months before having major hip surgery and in a body cast for months afterwards.  These crazy contraptions held my legs immoble and I didn't start to crawl until I was about eighteen months old.  My first memory is crawling through the open doorway to our cellar and falling down the steps. I just couldn't figure out why my mother was standing in the open doorway of the cellar with her hands to her curlered and scarfed head, screaming, as I lay at the bottom on the soft dirt floor of the cellar.  I knew I was fine.  What was she so upset about?

Despite that rocky start, as a child I felt strong. I could run, hike, climb trees.  I had a great gym teacher in elementary school, Mr. Ahrens, who specialized in making all his kids revel in moving their bodies.  I remember spending one especially wonderful gym class jumping up and down to Three Dog Night's Joy to the World.  It was great.  Things were a little less great as I moved into middle school (and those gym teachers were NIGHTMARES who specialized in humiliating preteens and playing Boggle).  As things became less and less great in that area, I became more and more invested in an image of myself that said "Can't/Don't/Won't".  I wasn't athletic.  I wasn't strong.  I couldn't.  I looked weird when I ran.  I didn't like the way my body moved.  I didn't want people to look at me.

Fast forward years and years and here I am.  I'm not strong.  I can't do what I want to do.  Now I look weird when I WALK.  I don't like the way my body looks.  I don't want people to look at me or to see me.  Hell, I don't even look at myself if I can help it. 

Hmmmmm. That's some self hatred.  That's some awful stuff.  And through it all, God is telling me something different.  Something really revolutionary.  Something that I think is going to change my life.  Really.  Change.  My.  Life.

More on that tomorrow. :-)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Turkey Breasts, Yoga, and Self-Love

This is a 5.8 pound turkey breast from Wegman's.  I plan to make it for dinner on Sunday night, along with gluten-free stuffing and some nice vegetables.  My husband loves turkey dearly and the advent of celiac disease for him meant that his beloved Stovetop Stuffing (blech) had to go.  I'm less of a fan but it does seem to be turkey season, so I can deal with it. 

Our gustatory peculiarities, however, are not the reason that I propped a turkey breast up on my countertop and took a picture to share with you.  Rather, my actions were prompted by a very strong memory that my recent attendance at a yoga class brought forward.  When I was about 8 years old, my mother was teaching me how to prepare a whole chicken for roasting.  As she washed it in cool running water, she casually remarked, "You know, you were smaller than this chicken when you were born."  That roaster was around the same weight as my turkey breast (and poultry is poultry, after all).  The idea was mind-boggling to an eight year old, and it's still pretty scary to a forty-harumph year old. 

I called my mother the other night and asked her again how much I had weighed at birth.  ("Oh, about two pounds, I think.  And, we might as well be honest, you were born in the car on the way to the hospital.  And, oh, you had a blood infection too.")  Some of this information was new to me and I was flabbergasted all over again.  To put it another way, I was about the size of a Chinese cabbage:  a Chinese cabbage with septicemia.

So all of this is pretty dramatic stuff.  It's been the background of my physical life and has informed my passion when it comes to prolife issues -- about 144,000 US children are aborted in the second trimester each year, which is the stage of life at which I was born into the world.  At the same time, it has caused me some other issues which do have a bearing on that yoga class I mentioned.

One of the ways in which premature babies are treated at the present time is with kangaroo care -- mothers are encouraged to touch their babies and to hold them on their chests for as long as possible.  When I was born, not only had this technique not come into vogue, touching premature babies was forbidden.   My father was working to pay for the medical care I was receiving and my mother didn't drive and had an 18 month old toddler to boot.  She was only able to come to the hospital when someone could drive her, and that was mostly on the weekends.  So the upshot of all of this is that I spent the early months of my life in an artificial environment, touched only in a clinical way, and struggling to survive.  Although no one has ever really articulated this to me, I am convinced that these early beginnings have a lot to do with some of my personality "quirks" and, particularly, with the weird way I interact with and perceive my own physical self.