Wednesday, February 22, 2012

ash wednesday incoherence

T.S. Eliot describes my frame of mind so well right now.

Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us
This world that breaks my heart. 

Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy rotten system.

We are the nation the most powerful, the most armed and we are supplying arms and money to the rest of the world where we are not ourselves fighting. We are eating while there is famine in the world.

I've been reading Dorothy Day over dinner, and find it amusing that the last two presidents have quoted her, considering that everything they've done in the past decade or so would have been reprehensible to her, like predator drones and warpiggery and enriching the few at the expense of the many, though everyone quotes their respective religious figures when they see the need to, so there's really no difference.

I have long since come to believe that people never mean half of what they say, and that it is best to disregard their talk and judge only their actions.

It's been ten years since I've been to an Ash Wednesday service, I feel disingenuous taking ashes and not the bread, and so I try to comprehend, too unstilled to contemplate, too resigned to truly rage, because I doubt the righteousness of my fury, there is too much of me in it still.

"I hold more temper in one minute than you will hold in your entire life."

But it's hard for me to listen to people who say they respect the sanctity of life as created by God who have no problem degrading the humanity and personhood of others through torture, who seem too enthused or all too willing to blow up other parts of the world because of some perceived clash of values. Human life is cheap to the powers that be, who utilize human resources until they run dry, justify the unjustifiable with economics and ideology and appealing to emotions and blaming the other side while doing the same exact things that were once decried.

It is not just Vietnam, it is South Africa, it is Nigeria, the Congo, Indonesia, all of Latin America. It is not just the pictures of all the women and children who have been burnt alive in Vietnam, or the men who have been tortured, and died. It is not just the headless victims of the war in Colombia. It is not just the words of Cardinal Spellman and Archbishop Hannan. It is the fact that whether we like it or not, we are Americans. It is indeed our country, right or wrong, as the Cardinal said in another context. We are warm and fed and secure (aside from occasional muggings and murders amongst us). We are the nation the most powerful, the most armed and we are supplying arms and money to the rest of the world where we are not ourselves fighting. We are eating while there is famine in the world.

  ...We are the rich. The works of mercy are the opposite of the works of war, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, nursing the sick, visiting the prisoner. But we are destroying crops, setting fire to entire villages and to the people in them. We are not performing the works of mercy but the works of war. We cannot repeat this enough.

Words are as strong and powerful as bombs, as napalm. How much the government counts on those words, pays for those words to exalt our own way of life, to build up fear of the enemy. Deliver us, Lord, from the fear of the enemy. That is one of the lines in the psalms, and we are not asking God to deliver us from enemies but from the fear of them. Love casts out fear, but we have to get over the fear in order to get close enough to love them.

Even as a lapsed Catholic whose soul still turns towards the liturgical end of things, I've never been good at this whole Lent thing, more out of absentmindedness than anything else, and having only been in the land of parochials for the first decade of life, never quite developed the guilt complex endemic to the others in my circle. I know better than to try and give up caffeine, and I eat too little meat for it to be denial, maybe a cut in consumption of goods, perhaps?

 We will print the words of Christ who is with us always, even to the end of the world. "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute and calumniate you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, who makes His sun to rise on the good and the evil, and sends rain on the just and unjust."

I realize more and more that acquisition and use are so endemic to the lifestyle of paychecks and solo living. I have no one to provide for, and I make all efforts to share what I do have, but so much volunteering throughout my twenties has soured me on a lot of charitable work, when you realize that more goes to pay an entitled administrator than that goes to the people. The money trails of even the most altruistic causes make me not want to waste my time and resources, but instead of looking at other options, so often I just become busy with my own life and my own circle, and I don't give as much of myself and what I have as I should, even more not okay because I have no one to sustain except myself.

Love is not the starving of whole populations. Love is not the bombardment of open cities. Love is not killing, it is the laying down of one’s life for one’s friend.

So, to give more of my time, of what I possess, of my skills, of my soul? To just start, I guess, and see what happens. 

My strength returns to me with my cup of coffee and the reading of the psalms.  

How often it does. 

Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
   Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
   and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
2 For day after day they seek me out;
   they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
   and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
   and seem eager for God to come near them.
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
   ‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
   and you have not noticed?’

   “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
   and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
   and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
   and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
   only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
   and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
   a day acceptable to the LORD?

 6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
   and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
   and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
   and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
   and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
   and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
   and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
   you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

   “If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
   with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
   and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
   and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The LORD will guide you always;
   he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
   and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
   like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
   and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
   Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.



  2. Verily, as concerneth our PTBs, thou hast forgotten the Rule of Completely Different.

  3. have you tried an episcopalian service? if you can ignore the waspy members the bells and smells might appeal and the oaths/commitments are a bit looser

  4. Ah yes, Randal, not so much do unto others but do as I say not as I do!

    I dig the old-school aesthetics muchly, but I've found the teaching and the community in my current place of worship to be wonderful, so I don't plan on departure any time soon...

  5. very good, that's a lucky thing my wife hasn't been able to find a good church community in many years and cities so i have some sense of what a gap that can be, enjoy

  6. Lenten things don't necessarily have to be self-flagellating/-denial. A friend vowed to write poetry for an undistracted hour a day for the entire 40. Self-discipline.

    Instead of denying yourself, deny evil. Don't use a product by a corporation or business that is part of the rapine.

    Sit for an hour with Occupy every day.

    Spend time with your church's charitable soup kitchen instead of mass.

    You get the idea.

  7. Jim,
    I'm using this time to reconnect with people, ponder, create, reconcile the loose ends to the best I can, and try not to be so self-absorbed.

    Then again, it's what I try to do all the time, it's just that this season of life's been unusually pensive.