So as some you know, I’ve started at the University of Chicago Divinity School in the last few weeks.

It’s gone well, but one thing that’s struck me is the unbelievability of it.

Have you ever gotten to a point, looked around, and wondered, “How did I get here?”

I’ve been wondering a bit about how I ended up in Divinity School, something that I would have never imagined six or seven years ago.

And yet, now it seems quite natural.  Normal.  The idea crept into my head half a dozen years ago, partly in conjunction with reading Gilead by Marilynne Robinson and partly from the perceived freedom of inquiry and exploration afforded by divinity schools.

It is a curious road.  I hope in the next little while to post some reflections on this road.

I see this as a successor to The Wingèd Man’s Faith Journey (here, here, here, and here).

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Wearing the Cranky Pants

21 August 2008

So, yesterday, I decided to gget out of the house and instead of busting tail on grad school apps. and the like, I decided to go to the library, pick up a few books I’ve wanted to peruse, and hit a coffeeshop.

I’d have loved to get out the door at 9:00, but I didn’t.  Between getting everybody (including myself) ready and out the door as well as making time for a little prayer before leaving the house, I was not out the door until 9:30 or later.

So I did all I wanted and all I needed to do, found myself ensconced at a coffeeshop, and looked up: 10:30 AM.

It dawned on me how much time I had before my lunch date.  The glory of it: an hour and a half to read and drink coffee.  And to think I had been so cranky and pissy in my own head until then.

Be thankful for all you have!

A Conversation with God

7 August 2008

On God’s Providence « This Is Life!: Revolutions Around the Cruciform Axis

I don’t have visions. I’ve never had visions. I know some people who’ve had them, but not I. Thank God.

I’m not sure I could handle seeing things or hearing things that were clearly of divine origin. I can handle the divine as manifested in things, but a face-to-facer with the Big One. No thanks.

Last week, however, I did have a brief conversation with God. I did not hear anything, but I did think something. And it was a simple question from God.

Why are you afraid, I was asked.

Well, I am afraid that things won’t work out: there won’t be enough to help us through tough times, or something bad will happen.

Don’t you know I will always take care of you, was the follow-up.

Yes, I do, but I think the root of my fear is the idea that perhaps I, Jorge, will get in the way. That something I do will prevent that care from happening, that it will short circuit Providence.

At that point, I felt foolish.

Good thing you haven’t been right so far, was the reply.

More on the Little Way

5 August 2008

I am told by friends that I am holy, that I am an inspiration. That I am wise or that I have such impressive or meaningful insights.

The sense I get when I am told these things or things like them is that, somehow, I have a connection or insight that is inaccessible or at least relatively inaccessible to the speaker.

The more I think about it, the more important I realize the Little Way (caution: that website is ultra-traditionalist, sedevacantist; wander at your own risk!) is. St. Therese of Lisieux is an important saint for our time. Her youth and infirmity prevented her from rigorous and impressive penances. As a consequence, she began to look at all her life, all the little things from everyday life, as opportunities for connection to God.

Likewise, in our contemporary world, a life of holiness can seem unrealistic in the extreme. Hence, the importance of the Little Way.

Being Ignored

24 July 2008

I said to The Little Guy’s caregiver that what I usually want is to be ignored, to be left alone.  I said this because she is one of his favorite people, and while I am one of them too, he does not express that in straightforward ways very often when I’m around.

The challenge, I explained, is that sometimes I need to get things done —to get the Little Guy to cooperate—, and that’s frustrating, because I can’t be ignored and get something.  This form of Christian discipleship is a renunciation of all power over others.  Whether that other is a child, a student, or anyone else, the love that such a spirituality of disappearing has as its goal can result in great frustration.  Power is efficacious, at least in the short term, and monastic spirituality is not in the short term.

And that’s the very challenge of the spirituality that people like Thomas Merton espouse.  If I am going to follow that monastic way, that way of disappearing, when I am actually treated that way, I can’t get upset or frustrated.  After all, if someone asks or works for something, and then is upset at what is received, then we call that person ungrateful or crazy.

The Council of the Church of Jesus Christ, Reconciler, has decided to encourage its members to fast and pray this week for Burma:

The council met this week and decided to have a week of response to the recent tragedies in Burma and China. There are two ways the council is encouraging us as a congregation to respond as a people of faith. First we will have a week for prayer and fasting. We encourage each of us to choose one day to spend in fasting and prayer for the softening of the hearts of the Military leaders of Burma who are preventing aid to come into the country and allocated to the people in need and to simply lift up in prayer all those who are suffering from such great loss in both countries. Second we are collecting means for contributing financially through Episcopal, Covenant and Baptist channels. You will be receiving information about how to make contributions through each denominations aid agencies.

Most readers of this ‘blog are not members, but I encourage you to consider some kind of fast and some act of prayer for those in need due to natural disasters recently.

A Holy Week Confession

18 March 2008

One of the things I usually do during Lent is not eat meat.  And while I look forward to having a cheeseburger in the near future, I feel I should make it clear the extent to which I indulged myself this Lent.

I have eaten, since the beginning of Lent, pieces of a Ribeye, a 16-ounce Prime Rib, a pizza with a lot of meat on it, and (I think) a couple of sandwiches involving turkey, ham, or salami.

I’ve visited my family and attended a bachelor’s dinner at a fancy, 1940’s supper-club-style restaurant/steak house, both occasions when complete abstention would have made other people feel bad, since I would be avoiding meat while they indulged.  Now, I have eaten all of these on Saturday nights or Sundays, but still . . . it’s not like I went without meat this Lent.

I feel fine about this, but I figured I’d put this out there in the interests of full disclosure.

Go back about your business; that is all.

I had a good post in mind for today. I could have sworn that somewhere in the readings for last week in the Daily Office (specifically, Hebrews) it said something to the effect that “he who knows Christ does not sin, but he who sins does not know Christ.”

What struck me was the unequivocal, your-either-with-God-or-against-God statement. I’ve spent a few minutes scanning and reading the middle chapters (7-11) which might contain this text, I’ve settled on this:

11:19Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

26For if we wilfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27but a fearful prospect of judgement, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.

It’s that last pair of verses which really struck me. But the preceding six verse are rather confidence and comforting.

I’ve placed this quote here because as I was thinking about Lent last week, this passage really struck me. To me this is one way of looking at what Lent is all about: in faith, we go forth confident in the power of God to help us be our best selves. The Christian life is the life of those who try to encourage each other in various ways. The great risk being a confidence that makes us think we no longer need conversion.

Conversion is a word we often use to denote a change in religious affiliation or religious tradition. Someone converts from Christianity to Islam, let’s say. But here I mean it in the sense of constantly resolving to do better, leave aside bad habits, and to take up good ones.

This quote, for me, will be the motto of my Lent.

Lenten Disciplines

5 February 2008

So, I’ve posted my New Year’s Resolutions, I might as well post my Lenten disciplines.

In many ways, I’ve little of substance or note in my Lenten disciplines.  I’ve done all these before, to some extent:

  1. Abstaining from meat on all days but Sundays.
  2. Fast on Wednesdays and Fridays.
  3. No alcohol during the week.
  4. Read something of spiritual significance.
  5. Pray the Hours with increased focus and discipline.

It may not seem it, but for me this Lent is all about quality, not quantity.  The last few Lents have had significant portions that have focused on the exterior: relationships, communication, outward disciplines.  I hope that this year’s Lent might lend itself to a greater interiority.

    1. Abstaining from meat on all days but Sundays.

I will also attempt to abstain from milk, cheese, and eggs when eating by myself (so generally lunches on non-fast days and at fast-breaking on Wednesday and Friday).  I am adopting no real strictness on this account, but I will try to do it whenever I can.

     2. Fast on Wednesdays and Fridays

I’ve also considered fasting on Mondays, since I won’t be going to the gym those days.  Fasting on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays are more ore less out, since I’ll go to the gym on those days.

3. No alcohol during the week.

This one is self-explanatory; in the last month I’ve indulged myself generously a few times, which is more than usual.  I’m thinking that Saturday evening and Sunday evenings I’ll allow myself a beer or two.

4. Read something of spiritual significance.

I wonder what folks might suggest.  I’m interested in reading something that I’m not familiar with.  I’ve considered the Showings of  Julian of Noriwch, Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis, or Merton’s Thoughts in Solitude.  I’m not interested on pushing myself on this, just giving myself a meaningful, positive spiritual reading for Lent.  Short might be good.

5. Pray the Hours with increased focus and discipline.

I often pray the Morning and Evening Prayer in a less-than-focused way.  If I read while the Little Guy eats breakfast, I can’t be that focused.  And I’ve often foregone Compline lately, and haven’t prayed the Little Hours in months.  I’d like to pray them again, and I might try to take them up anew.

Okay, so I’ll admit it.  I have a cell phone.  And I’m somewhat excited about it.

Want the number?  Sorry, I’m not giving it out.

Why?  Do I not like you?  That’s not it.  It’s an emergency cell phone; our main line/ land line is no more, and has been transfered to a cell phone for about a year now.  As I am often at school and otherwise unreachable for long stretches a day, we decided to get a second cell phone.  Not wanting to add to our monthly expenses, we got a prepaid phone.  So this cell phone is not for casual conversation.  Want to talk to me?  Call me at the regular number.

So why am I posting about this phone that nobody will ever call?  (Well, not nobody; if I need you to be able to get hold of me in a pinch, I’ll give you the number.  Beth has the number, of course, and if someone really needs to reach me and gets Beth, she’ll give it out.)  I’m excited because it has made me realize something.

I’ve been reading Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation, a book I’ve tried to read before (in fact the first Merton I ever tried to read) and have always found horribly boring.  One of the little curmudgeonly tidbits Merton in New Seeds is an emphasis on solitude, especially his assertion that solitude is about being able to be in your own company.  He diagnoses many societal ills as the result of most people being unable to stand their own company.  So much so, Merton asserts, that we talk all the time, watch TV all the time, work all the time, listen to the radio all the time, and all so compulsively, so we won’t come into intimate, prolonged contact with the magnificently terrifying beauty of our own souls —our own selves— especially if our souls have also become deformed by the very things that help us remain distracted from our own company.

Solitude, for Merton, is not about being away from people, but about being comfortable being alone with oneself, and with God.  I feel that people’s compulsive texting, cellphone calling, IMing, emailing, and whatnot is the contemporary manifestation of this.  It’s not really about “staying in touch” at all; it’s about “staying out of touch” with ourselves.

The last time I had a cell phone, I hated it.  I hated that people thought they could call me whenever they wanted and that I was obliged to answer the phone.  I’m not saying this was healthy, but it was really the way I felt.

I have resisted getting my own cell phone for a while, precisely for that reason.  And yet, now that I have it, I’m excited.  It’s nifty.  It’s handy.  And, I admit, I have to fight the urge to start calling people on it, which will of course make its few and rather expensive minutes run out.  I have to fight the urge to turn “our emergency phone” (which it is) into “my personal phone” (which it is not supposed to be).

So what does this have to do with Merton or solitude?  Merton also argues that the things that give us pleasure, be they sex, alcohol, the sun, whatever, give us that pleasure and are attractive precisely because they are such good things.  This cell phone is a very good thing, for reasons of safety, efficiency, and communication.  And yet I could totally ruin it by not using it correctly.  I could use it as a source of entertainment: play games on it, call people on it, even surf the web on it.  But this is not my personal cell phone; this is our emergency cell phone.

What I have realized is that I don’t really have a problem with cell phones, in the same way that Merton didn’t really have a problem with other people nor did he think all people should run off and become hermits.  He (and I) simply wish people were a little more intentional and deliberate in their lives.  Call someone because you really want or need to speak to that person, not because you’re bored.  Spend some time alone and encounter the beauty of You.

Merton and I probably feel this way because we (but certainly I) have struggled with being alone, quiet, and at peace with ourselves.  So we feel moved to look inside ourselves, work for solitude, and tell others to do the same.   It’s what moves us to give the following advice.

If you look inside and think you see a selfish person, a scared person, a person you wish you weren’t, then get help, whatever that may be.  Because that selfishness, that fear, that thing you see in yourself that you wish wasn’t there, isn’t You.  No person need be reluctant to live in (interior) solitude.

This is Merton’s point, and to some extent is why I didn’t like cell phones.  People are good and beautiful and a pleasure to be around, Merton says, love them and see them, and yourself, as they and you are.  If that’s hard, then stop doing, go inside, center yourself, and figure out, with help, what needs to go or what needs to come in.