Love and light

Love and light

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Another excerpt from a letter to a friend…

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The root of so much that has so long been so broken in my own self is not that I rarely expend much time or energy in my own direction, it’s that as much as I deeply love so many, I just don’t have a place to love myself. I mean, surely I’m no longer knocking on death’s door begging to be let in (as I did for twelve years), but I also know that I’m not “fixed” and that this is the piece of myself that is far from “recovered,” and is the root of every ugly thing. It’s one of the horrendous things in that’s in The Hall Closet [a reference to My Heart: Christ’s Home], but you know that.
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But the thing is, my brain is just…broken. I only apply this standard to myself, but I absolutely equate “utility” and “worth.” I can argue the theological and ontological and everything else logical arguments for why that isn’t a valid perspective…for anyone else. I can’t make any of it stick for me. And it’s not just the absence of self-love, it’s the presence of self-loathing. And like I said…I can parse through the head knowledge beautifully, but I can’t make it stick on the soul level.

I can’t fix that, because in that case the problem is within. Only God can fix that one.

There’s a lot more to all of this on a lot of levels. I hear your words — as I have heard your words on multiple occasions — about me taking care of me. I don’t know how to do that, I just don’t. I don’t even know enough to know the pieces I’m missing to try to figure out what that would even look like without being off-balance.

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I generally love without expectation — e.g., I am not your friend because I’m trying to earn your love or friendship (I am your friend because I just love you). And I don’t work that way because I’ve spent too much time around miserable people who do. If a person appreciates my love or kindness, and expresses that appreciation in love or kindness in return, I am happy…but I am not happy BECAUSE they were kind to me, I am happy because they were able to receive my love. And even then it’s not on a level of “I am an acceptable person because my love was found to be acceptable by this person,” no. I am happy because the person I love was blessed by the love I intended to bless them. And it isn’t that I somehow did well for sending that love, but merely joy that love itself (not my part in it) “won” and my friend was blessed. When I play with my dear baby niece, my goal is to engage her (and if possible, delight her because it’s so sweet when she laughs). It’s not about my aim to be perceived to be delightful, it’s about spreading love and joy. I am still going to love her if she doesn’t delight in my presence.

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You know it makes me sad that there are people in my life whom I love dearly but who cannot receive or accept my love. It took a long time to get to the place of realizing that their reaction didn’t change the reality of who I am — I am not less because they cannot receive my love or love me. But that doesn’t stop me from weeping (often to God). Yes, I am sad that they do not love me and cannot receive my love, but only a little — because I know this isn’t how life was meant to be, broken families are not part of God’s best plan. What sets me to weeping and prayer is that love isn’t winning the day.

That’s really it.

Because I am a broken person, I see my brokenness, and I do not just not love what is broken within me, I hate it. And I absolutely live with (and live by) this question: “How can I live this day to bless others?” I’m still the same parts beautiful and wretchedly broken I was before I woke up and before I decided to be proactive about loving others, but whether love is accepted or reciprocated, love itself makes the world a less-broken place.

And isn’t that, essentially, one pretty big take-home point of the gospel?

I do take time to take care of me a little, and I don’t derive self-worth or merit or acceptance from my love and service. I just happen to have a cazy-huge servant’s heart. I really do love Merton’s metaphor of a crystal:

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When a ray of light strikes a crystal, it gives a new quality to the crystal. And when God’s infinitely disinterested love plays upon a human soul, the same kind of thing takes place. And that is the life called sanctifying grace.

The soul of a man, left to its own natural level, is a potentially lucid crystal left in darkness. It is perfect in its own nature, but it lacks something it can only receive from outside and above itself. But when the light shines in it, it becomes in a manner transformed into light and seems to lose its nature in the splendor of a higher nature, the nature of the light that is in it.

So the natural goodness of man, his capacity for love which must always be in some sense selfish if it remains in the natural order, becomes transfigured and transformed when the Love of God shines in it. What happens when a man loses himself completely in the Divine Life within him? This perfection is only for those who are called the saints — for those rather who are the saints and who live in the light of God alone.

— Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain

Even before I read all of the various brilliant things Merton had to say on the subject, I felt that the best reflection of who God is through me is in my love and service of others. I love to love and I serve to serve because I am grateful that I CAN love and that I CAN serve. I seriously scrutinize anything that detracts from that, even if that “something” happens to be me.

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Vanities

Vanities

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The artist’s caption on “Healing in New Light,” by Imaculate Heart High School student Katie Ganz, reads as follows: “We all bear scars, whether they are from childhood accidents, surgeries, or even from self-inflicted injuries.  From these scars, no matter what their source is, we learn.  Scars are a sign of healing: new skin covers the wound and protects it from future harm.  The scars in my piece are from self-harm.  They show suffering, while also symbolizing healing and new life.  The water, both in the hands and on the scars, represents healing and the washing away of pain.  My piece symbolizes new life, healing, and rising from pain and suffering, as Jesus did when he was resurrected.”

The image of the scars, the hands offering the rosary — which could represent prayer, but which also contains a crucifix — combined with the water stopped me in my tracks as I walked through the cathedral student art galleries; it’s a powerful symbol regardless of whether or not the viewer is Roman Catholic.  The power of this image haunts me on a level that only one who understands it intimately can be haunted. — VKS

“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity…I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.” — Ecclesiastes 1:2, 14

I’ve not stopped thinking, but my health still really isn’t quite what it ought to be this week, so it’s been a lot of “resting quietly” as my body has finally allowed me to sleep for more than an hour or so at a stretch (thus there were some days when I was too exhausted to do much else).  Sleep can be a grace, but only dreamless sleep, for sleep is the place my mind goes where all of the unspeakable evils it works so hard to block all day (to keep me sane and functional) no longer have a conscious “block” to keep them in-check.  It’s not always or every day, but nightmares can certainly play a bold part in making my attempts at sleep anything but restful.  It’s my body at war with itself and the devil; illness and roaches don’t help.

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There is living, there is thriving, there is merely existing. Life is a rich and beautiful thing, precious and not to be wasted. We are not called to muddle through, we are called to live.

I am not living, this is something else.

There may be a difference between “resting” and “losing days,” but in many ways they seem the same. I can’t get the days I’ve slept through back, and no one was blessed for them, not even me. I can’t answer for them, only that if we who are human are composed of both “soul” and “dust,” it was my “dust” that failed.

I’m Type-A. Type-As don’t take failure well…nor easily.

Things were in a lull for awhile, but the promise of aid has faded before my ability to work has been regained. Not that I was particularly desirable as an employee before the accident, but presenting a newly more broken version of myself as a candidate for employment is not a winning plan. There are thousands of applicants out there for the entry-level stuff I’m fully-qualified to apply for — no one in this job market needs to extend a single bit of grace to accomodate me, there are only to many behind me happy to fill the spot without exception. I am a number, not a name.

At least I’m not “just a number” to God.

I am fully-capable to do better things, but the requirement of a four-year degree keeps me barred from much. I am gifted, yes, but what in the world good to me are gifts I’m not allowed to use?

The neighborhood was on lockdown again the other night — three-and-a-half hours of helicopter patrol, cop cars galore. Not sure what happened or if they ever found who they were looking for. The key problem is again. I am very blessed to have a place to be, but when there seems to be no place safe in that place, it doesn’t always seem like a blessing. Roaches don’t help, they are the vilest sort of company. Guinea pigs do help, but it is dangerous to pin so much hope and love on such dear little fragile creatures.

Hard news seems — once again — to be coming from every quarter. I pray much for those I love, and God does hear my prayers, but my poor petitions seem so small compared to the very great and dire needs, the profound physical and spiritual brokenness, of those I so dearly love. My cranky Calvinist self holds no belief to the intercession of the saints (Christ alone is our intercessor), but that does not make me shy in the least to fall down and weep at the feet of St. Monica when I’m at the cathedral (as a bonus, she is standing next to Francis and Clare of Assisi). Monica in real life would understand the prayerful tears shed for those I love — tears for wandering souls, broken spirits, broken relationships, broken bodies. Francis would understand the kind of crazy love that can make loving others in the name of Christ seem like an insane proposition.

Friday afternoon I did, in-fact, retreat to that place in the Cathedral downtown, but I was so completely drained I couldn’t think, pray, or have an emotional response. I could just “be”…and no more.

Does the fact that I took the time to take myself out of my life — with the intent to go “be” quietly in a place where I went to seek God’s presence — “count,” even though I was too tired to function when I got there? Normally I would have found a quiet corner for a nap before prayer, but there isn’t one in a place like that.

In my day-to-day life, there isn’t a quiet, well-rested corner for God anywhere. In my day-to-day life, there isn’t a quiet, well-rested corner for me either. I love life, I just don’t happen to love my life.

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Broad Museum of Contemporary Art, LACMA. 21 May 2012

I feel like a horrible person to have argued against my friend about this, but I did…she commented on a dripping-with-discouragement social networking status the other night:

“Remember your gifts, Val. You have much to offer. Healing will come, then you’ll reach out again. Maybe God has granted you the gift of time to gather your thoughts and count your blessings. You are a bright, intelligent woman with insights many people twice your age don’t possess. People love and support you. Keeping you in my prayers every night my friend.”

And while she is right on many levels, I still feel like — on some level — it isn’t quite that simple. My reply to her was:

“You can’t eat time my friend, and as I have had many long years of forced solitude, “time” really wasn’t something I needed. I have spent most of the last seven years in solitary confinement. “Time to gather my thoughts” is kind of like telling someone in Seattle that they need more rain. All of this is also serving to cut me off from ministry, and that is certainly not from God. I understand your point, but those insights only serve to further alienate me from people. Every day I say the way I am I become more irredeemably odd and alienated from people. Bless you for your prayers my friend. If you have any prayer requests, send them in a private message or e-mail if you wish.”

I also added as a bit of post-script:

(And what good are gifts I’m cut off from using????)

I have yet to find a satisfactory answer to that one, because it’s been bugging me for a long time.

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St. Val the Eccentric with a very dead bear at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, MLK Jr. Day 2009

In-case you were wondering? In-case it was not already clear? This is the blog of “St. Val the ECCENTRIC,” not the blog of “St. Val the Socially-Acceptable.” Irredeemably odd, unfortunately intelligent on levels that make people back away slowly. I was recently accused of a tendency to “irritate people without realizing you’re irritating.” No, I was not brought up on a planet without social cues, I know, but my sanity and your civility very often depends on me pretending I don’t. If I didn’t know, I’d probably never shut up actually. My “silent mode” exists because I know.

But sitting home reading mystic theologians and learning yet more when I arguably already know too much for anyone’s good in the first place?

And gifts I can’t use really are no use.

I sometimes feel like the author of Ecclesiasties, that all is just…vanities.

It was a dark and frustrating week with little promise and less hope. I had a picture in my mind, that what this feels like is that day when a ride was supposed to pick me up and is really, really, really late…with no explanation.

Still here, God…scars, prayers, and all…still here, waiting…