Tag Archives: Authenticity

A Lesson from King David

Frederick Leighton, David, 1865

Frederick Leighton, David, 1865 (via Wikimedia Commons)

As part of my Old Testament reading for class this week, we were assigned a selection of psalms, one of which was Psalm 51, the well-known “Miserere” prayed so often in the Liturgy of the Hours: Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness. In your compassion blot out my offense… I’ve prayed this psalm plenty of times before, but I had never noticed its context until now.

The Psalter calls it “A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” Ah, I thought. That’s why David sounds so desperate, pleading with God to forget his sins and make him clean – he composed this psalm at a moment when his spiritual life was a shambles!

So, the other day I sat down to read Psalm 51 with this fresh insight, thinking about David and his messed-up life (and sort of considering my own messiness, too) when I got to a verse that stopped me dead in my tracks:

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

(Psalm 51:17)

All I could think was: God wants me to give Him my broken spirit? In my present state of brokenness, this sounds absurd, and yes – sort of hard to believe. My spirit is broken. Nobody, God least of all, actually wants a gift that’s already broken, right? … Right?

Wrong! The answer’s right there in the psalm. God wants me to give Him my broken spirit so that He can put a new and right spirit within me (Ps 51:10). When I give Him my broken spirit, I’m getting myself out of the way and making room for Him to enter into my prayer and do what He does best: make all things new. He cannot dispel this oppressive darkness, speak Truth to the core of my being, and teach me wisdom in my secret heart (v. 6) unless I actually let Him reach into my deepest, darkest places – all the parts of me that I would prefer to keep locked up and hidden away.

It has taken me a long time to learn that I don’t need to “have it all together” when I go to pray. If that were the condition that made our prayer possible, let’s be honest: prayer would be impossible. We are urged to pray constantly (1 Thess. 5:17)  because it really is possible for us to pray in any circumstance – no matter how we feel, no matter how awful things seem, no matter how messy our lives have become.

As I continued to meditate on Psalm 51, I was reminded of a poem I wrote years ago (maybe in 2005 or 2006). I share it with you now as a second attempt to articulate what’s really been stirring in my heart these days. (For my first attempt, take a look at yesterday’s post.) I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Restore unto Me (Psalm 51)

Restore unto me, Lord, what I need.
I do not ask for the waters You calmed,
not for sweet tears of consolation,
not for the green growth You promised,
not for the fruit of my good deeds,
but for Your likeness, Your true image,
the way You chose to meet me:
violent wounds and cross and thorny crown,
entirely bruised for Your love
and unquenchable mercy.

Over my calloused heart pour Your lifeblood
and loose those streams that pulse with holy passion.
Into my stubborn hands and feet make deep those wounds
that make room for all that You would put in me.
Into Your heart’s blood and into Your hands I fall,
O Lord – burn my desires!
And restore unto me, Lord, what I need:
Your true image, crucified in me.

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Honesty.

It has taken me weeks months to write this post.

I’ve said from the beginning that I did not intend for this blog to turn into a virtual diary chronicling every mundane detail of my daily life. This is still the case; I value my privacy (hence the pen name), and I don’t really think you guys would find my day-to-day activities all that interesting. (Secretary by day, theology student by night – talk about life on the edge!) However, in my efforts to avoid becoming “too personal,” I’m afraid I haven’t been personal enough… and I think I’ve finally figured out why.

I wanted this blog to be positive and encouraging – “the witness of a vocation joyfully lived.” I wanted to show that discerning a vocation (i.e. falling in love with Christ) can be a beautiful, joy-filled journey – and I can still say wholeheartedly that it’s been that way for me! The problem is, lately I haven’t been feeling very joy-filled. In fact, I haven’t really been feeling “filled” with anything, except maybe bitterness, or confusion, or fear.

I’ve been having a rough go of it for quite a while now, and somewhere along the way I let myself become afraid that if I were honest about how things were going, I’d somehow end up being dishonest by misrepresenting my vocation and making it seem miserable and unappealing.

Thank goodness I have friends who are such beautiful examples of authenticity. (Kolbe, Flannery, Joan, Rita, Harry, Philomena – you guys are irreplaceable!) They have been incredibly kind to me during these difficult moments, and their unconditional acceptance of me, faults and all, has shown me that my fear of “ruining everything” with my honesty is, like most fears, silly and unfounded. Authenticity will always enhance our Christian witness, not detract from it! So, from here on out, I’ll be trying to speak (er, write) from a more authentic place.

It’s been a rough year, guys. These past few months in particular have been really, really hard, and as the date of my consecration (still set for next June) gets closer and closer, greater and greater difficulties have cropped up in just about every area of my life  – prayer, work, health, relationships. I still haven’t quite figured out how much of what’s been going on is on the natural (physical/psychological) level, and how much of it might be spiritual, but I do know that it’s got to be some combination of the two.

On the one hand, I can see that my perfectionistic tendencies, chock-full schedule and poor stress-management skills have been wreaking havoc on my health, leaving me burned-out and more than a little irritable. Fr. Savio has always tried to remind me that “exhaustion is the enemy of the soul,” and of course, he’s right. When you’re completely exhausted, just about any activity – prayer, work, time spent with friends, basically any activity other than sleeping – loses its appeal.

On the other hand, I’m in the last stretch of my formation before I’m consecrated to the Lord in a solemn, holy rite that will make me entirely His forever, and I can’t imagine that the enemy is very happy about that. He’s probably been doing his utmost to orchestrate this latest barrage of temptations as a last-ditch effort to derail my plans and get me to start doubting the Lord’s love for me. (For the record, it hasn’t worked! The wonderful people in my life have continually thwarted his efforts by going out of their way to love me in the midst of my failures and my messiness. If they can be so kind, how much more must the Lord [still] love me?)

I also know that I’ve still got tons of growing left to do before Christ makes me His bride, so it’s certainly possible that God is allowing this dryness/darkness in order to show me just how dependent I am upon Him for… well, everything.

“Nothing is more fatal in the spiritual life than the thought that we can do anything good without our Lord, and our self-love is so subtle, that unconsciously we attribute to ourselves the little good that we do, which spoils everything. Our Lord, out of love, leaves us sometimes to our wicked nature, and then we are frightened in seeing all the evil and the possibilities of evil hidden in us. It is not that we are worse than before, but that our Lord let us see the depths of evil which grace had covered. During these moments, we should act in union with God’s designs, by humbling ourselves profoundly and throwing ourselves into God’s arms.”

– Bl. Columba Marmion

Either way you look at it, it would only make sense for there to be some sort of spiritual element to these trials, underneath whatever’s been happening mentally and (perhaps as a consequence) physically.

I can’t go into much more detail than this – that would take a whole series of posts, and besides, I’m still getting used to this authenticity thing: no more fooling myself into thinking I can be perfect, no more pretending “everything’s fine” when it isn’t, no more trying to “take care of things” myself without asking for help. I’ve talked things over with my spiritual director and a few trusted friends, so there’s no need to worry (in case you’re the anxious type, like me!) about me trying to handle everything on my own. I know I’m in good hands, but I could definitely use some extra prayers.

Till next time, oremus pro invicem*–

Charity

 

* Let us pray for one another.

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Quotable: On love and authenticity

This summer I’ve set out to read a great stack of books that I’ve been meaning to read for ages. First on the list: C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves, which I’ve started several times but never finished. From the little I’ve read so far, I can already say it’s an exceptionally wise and valuable book. I suppose I never got through it because in the past, its profound explorations of love and authenticity in loving never rang quite as true as they do for me now. I’ve concluded that there must have been certain lessons I needed to learn, certain instances of love and friendship that I had to experience first, in order for me to really understand what Lewis was trying to say.

I’m sure I’ll have more reflections to offer once I’m done with the book, but for now I wanted to share a contemporary take on the same subject: Jonathan Franzen’s op-ed in the NY Times called “Liking Is for Cowards. Go for What Hurts.” It seems as though Franzen sets out to rehash a popular criticism of social media: that in a world that is becoming increasingly materialistic and permeated by technology, people are in more danger than ever of defining themselves by the (often inauthentic) persona they present in social media like Facebook and (eek!) personal blogs. I’ve heard this take before, and it has made me cautious – and I hope, more prudent – about the way I use such technology; however, I have not heard anyone go quite as far as Franzen does in this piece regarding the consequences of such behavior.

The real danger, he says, in all of this technology, is that it can (and often does) stunt the growth of real love in us – not by isolating us and making face-to-face contact with others less frequent (though, sadly, this is often the case), but rather by turning us into narcissists who prefer liking and being superficially liked by everyone to loving and being truly loved by specific people.

“The simple fact of the matter is that trying to be perfectly likable is incompatible with loving relationships. Sooner or later, for example, you’re going to find yourself in a hideous, screaming fight, and you’ll hear coming out of your mouth things that you yourself don’t like at all, things that shatter your self-image as a fair, kind, cool, attractive, in-control, funny, likable person. Something realer than likability has come out in you, and suddenly you’re having an actual life.

“Suddenly there’s a real choice to be made … Do I love this person? And, for the other person, does this person love me?

“There is no such thing as a person whose real self you like every particle of. This is why a world of liking is ultimately a lie. But there is such a thing as a person whose real self you love every particle of. And this is why love is such an existential threat to the techno-consumerist order: it exposes the lie.”

This is why, I would add, real love – true Christian charity – is the antidote to our vanities and arrogance and egotism: it makes us vulnerable and shows us, in a way that we cannot deny, who we really are. It reminds us that we are far from perfect, that we need divine assistance if we wish to truly love others as they are (and allow them to love us as we are), faults and all.

Pretty perceptive stuff for an op-ed column, especially one written by someone who seems to be coming from a purely secular point of view. You can read the whole column here – it’s really quite good.

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