Sunday, March 01, 2009

First Sunday of Lent '09: Little Deaths and Dying to Self

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the saints I love like Dorothy Day, Saint Therese the little flower, and Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta. All of them practiced "the little way." These big souls, so extraordinary to me, regarded themselves as unexceptional. They were humble and found holiness in the most ordinary things.

I heard a story about Dorothy Day and a man who'd come to meet her. Day was listening intently to a woman who was clearly drunk. After she realized there was a visitor she asked him, "Are you waiting to speak with one of us?" How telling that question. She esteemed the drunk woman as highly as herself. Mother Theresa, like her namesake Therese, spoke of doing small things with great love, and the little flower was as apt to offering up to God the trial of enduring cranky nuns as the sickness that ultimately killed her. The three saintly ladies sought no esteem for themselves. They were content to do what God called them to without the hype. But hype they received, and isn't that something?

Sometimes my arrogance and ambition shocks me. Pride is one of my most subtle and besetting sins. Dear God! Do NOT fail to notice me! And please, please, please don't slight me. It comes up in my most intimate relationships, in my career. It rises up as I serve the Lord in the simplest ways. Lord, have mercy.

Last year five of my books made their way to bookstores all over the country, and I was proud. None of those books have sold well, and I was humbled. The year I thought would be my big one, turned out to be the year that I found myself increasingly diminished. I was passed over for the job of my dreams without even a second interview. I couldn't find a job. And of course, there was yesterdays form rejection letter to a program to study writing of all things. Each of these things were a little death to me, some smaller than others.

Today during coffee hour after church, I confided to a friend that I didn't know what I was going to do. "I feel like I'm walking my personal way of the cross," I told him, and at each station I die a little more. All this makes me think of Jesus.

Nobody understands the spirituality of the little way more than Jesus. The scriptures say He humbled Himself, taking on the form of man. Talk about a downsize! God in a diaper must have shocked the angels. He lived in obscurity for thirty years. His public ministry only lasted a mere three. He died young, in a most humiliating way. He was abused, mocked, and spit upon. He did not complain. I am nothing like Jesus.

I long for the big way. The star path.

In Mass today's Gospel was about the temptation of Christ, Mark 1:12-15:

"The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained there for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beast, and the angels ministered to him. After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel."

What is it that Satan tempted Jesus with? According to Henri Nouwen, it was the need to be relevant, powerful, and spectacular. I want to be relevant, powerful, and spectacular, but what is happening is that I'm irrelevant, weak, and under-whelming. I watch my friends become marketing machines for their books, and increasing find I have no heart for such. I'm grateful for energy to get out of bed most days. I'm thrilled that since Lent began, I've washed dishes every day, and exercised. Underwhelming indeed.

Today I felt more keenly aware of dying than I have in a long time. I don't mean the physical death I worried I may face sooner than later when I was in the hospital last weekend. I mean the dying to self I seem to have forgotten about that Jesus calls us to. A fierce melancholy seems to have seized me. I realized I don't want to die to self. I want to be relevant, powerful, and spectacular. In myself! Though I'd toss a little credit to God. Just being honest.

But die I will, Lord, help me, because I love Him despite myself. He enables me to love Him. But I'm counting up the cost of discipleship today, knowing that of the 12 disciples he chose, only one died of natural causes. Most were Love's martyrs. It's a hard thing to walk the way of the cross, I mean really, truly be in this thing to die. I came into this Lenten season fully expecting to let Christ's passion break my heart. I had no idea that I'd experience a passion of my own, and that it would shatter me, too.

I'm asking for the courage to keep going that hard way. To put my life, my future, even my children's future into God's hands. To give up my ambition for whatever small, seemingly insignificant thing He wants me to do. Honest to God I have no idea where I'm going. I keep talking about a house of hospitality, but that may not be God's will for me at all! He hasn't really clued me in yet. Or if He has, I don't get it. I feel like I'm free-falling, and it isn't altogether comfy. I imagine what I'm experiencing is only a fraction of what Jesus experienced, knowing the cup He'd drink of. Remember when the two disciples asked Jesus if they could sit on beside Him in His kingdom, and Jesus rebuked them, saying," You don't know what you're asking for. Are you willing to drink of my cup (my paraphrase)?" My soul is screaming, "You don't know what you asked for."

Did I know I may be called to taste the beginnings of success, and then be asked to forsake it?
Did I know God would take His time explaining what He's doing, if He explains at all?
Did I know my hopes would be dashed, that I might learn radical trust?
Did I know I'd have to fight an ever present urge to panic because it doesn't look like God is acting at all, or certainly He's not acting fast enough?!
Did I know it would hurt many a day to love Him? But I wouldn't be able to abide not loving Him?

I can ask so many more of these questions.

I guess I'm crazy enough to find out what I asked for, because I'm going with Him, so help me God! And I'm going only because I love Him so. Here's a little St. Teresa of Avila (I love those Theresas! No matter how you spell it!). I'm praying that in the midst of my own temptations, God will send me a few angels like He sent Jesus. I pray that I will learn the truth: I can live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God, instead of by the bread I make myself. This is dedicated to you fools for Christ bearing your own crosses on the way to your personal Calvaries, knowing it's going to be the death of you.

Prayer To Christ Crucified

I am not moved to love you, Lord,
By promises of paradise;
Nor does the hell that terrifies
Move me to want to sin no more.
You are the one that moves me, Lord,

When to your cross I turn my eyes
To see your wounds, hear insults, lies;
I'm grieved to know you're dying, Lord.

Your love moves me in such a way
That without heav'n I'd love you still,
And without hell, I'd fear to stray.

I need no goads or giveaway.
For even if my hopes were nil,
I'd love you as I do today.

-Thomas Walsh (translator)



wilsonian said...

Don't know why your path has this shape.
Don't know if it will smooth and widen.
But I'll walk with you on it when I can.

Love you.

ragamuffin diva said...

I don't know why, either, but I'm learning to trust God with all of this. As I was leaving Church this morning we had a little chat. He reminded me that He's never failed me. I thought of those kids in Swaziland, so beautiful, joyful, and humble singing and speaking of God's faithfulness. I've been given so much more, so I'm bending the knee, Erin. I know you know what that's all about. Little by little by little, right?

wilsonian said...

Little by little...

I appreciate what you're saying about those Swazi kids, but here's the thing... their struggle doesn't make yours any less difficult, any less real. But thinking about their sweet faces... I still have a lot to learn from them!

Elysa said...

This fellow ENFP can totally relate. :/

Heart4Francis said...

Love you! When I can find words, I'll be writing more Godmama. The Rites yesterday were an amazing watershed moment. I let it go..death..resurrection is coming.