November 14, 2013

Ramble On My Slow Posting

This blog has really slowed down. Some of it I attribute to my use of Twitter, which, as I have shown, is eminently suited to Franciscan preaching. Not that most of what I do on Twitter is preaching, but the tweets I might consider preaching always end up as the ones that get the most retweets and favorites. But some of the slowing of the blog has also certainly come from changes in my life.

I started blogging during the Easter season of 2006, just when I was edging toward a series of intense transitions: from a temporarily professed religious to a perpetually professed one, from a layman to a cleric, from a friar in formation to one in his first assignment, and finally from a deacon to a priest. 

From these transitions, the experiences that they brought for me, and from the licentiate thesis I was beginning at the time came many reflections for the blog.

Arriving in my first assignment as a new priest, I began to have all kinds of rich experiences, beautiful and difficult, within and without. I was preaching almost every day, often on more than one occasion. I was full of reflections and--I'll admit it--opinions, sometimes not honoring the salutary advice of one of my formation directors: 'Never pass up an opportunity not to have an opinion.' Those days were the height of this blog in terms of posts, visitors, and conversation with readers and other bloggers.

Then in 2010 came my transfer back to Boston and my false start as a doctoral student. Nevertheless, I was reading and studying and going through other curious experiences (to put it in a nice way) like being guardian of the house, and these kept me inspired to blog.

Now I find myself in my second year of service in our General Curia in Rome. It's a different life than any I have lived before as a religious. It's much more conventual. Some simple numbers reveal this: Here I go to chapel 20 times a week. That's three times a day less Sext on Sunday, which is replaced on that day by a little drink and appetizer before dinner. Even when I was a novice--the previous high--the number was 13. Here we have 14 formal meals in common a week. That's almost three times what I was used to at home. (In fairness, the brothers are often at table twice as long at home in the States.) There's no such thing as a sleep-in day here, or as it was called in the olden days, 'natural rising.' I get up at the same time every single day. At first I thought this was oppressive, but after a while I have seen that I sleep better on the whole. I'm in chapel around the same time every single morning, though sometimes 15 minutes or so later on a Sunday. (The lone exception to all this, as I wrote giddily when it finally occurred, was New Year's Day.) The life is so regular that sometimes I find myself unsure of what day of the week it is, an experience I haven't had since summer vacation when I was little.

On top of this new regularity of life, the work I do (translating, drafting official correspondence, correcting English) isn't of the sort that produces or inspires a lot of bloggable reflections, or at least it doesn't in the way my previous dispositions in the Order have.

The danger in all this at the natural level is boredom. At the spiritual level it's acedia, that noonday demon that arrives in the late morning when you've been working long enough to want a break, but when there are still two hours until Sext, dinner, and the afternoon rest. These temptations invite me to do all the things I used to read about in the desert fathers: find an excuse to leave the room, whether it be checking my mailbox again or seeing if there's someone else about to distract me, to eat, to be idle, to embrace the lust of nostalgia that longs for--and even tempts you to try to recreate--times when the experiences of prayer where more lush and exciting and satisfying to the flesh. But I've been at this journey long enough and with sufficiently varying degrees of failure to know that these are temptations to uncreation, to fleshly religiosity.

But the opportunity on the other side of the dangers and temptations is to go deeper, to go within, to find the real person created by God but who remains obscured by the various Charleses that--in their stupidity--don't realize that they have already been drowned in Jordan. 

In this regard I have an experience that I remember from the days in between my two times in religious life when I was working at the group home. It was the first time in my life when I was off an external linear path. Until I graduated college I was on the linear path of school and its grades. Immediately following I replaced this with the linear path of religious formation. But then, after I had been working for a couple of years, this sense of time changed. It became less linear and more cyclical. There was the cycle of the week, with its workdays and days off. The job itself had a certain seasonal cycle. I found that I wasn't dreading the beginning of the work week nor really looking forward to my days off. Both came and went, and I found a new attention to the moment which I had not previously experienced. And this meant a better quality attention to others.  It was in those days that I also began to feel the cycles of the liturgy more intensely, precisely as seasons and as a sort of web of cycles within and around them. I've begun to feel something like that again in my current circumstances.

As I say, the sameness of the everyday and the regularity of the life invite one to go deeper within. I suppose this is what a monastic life is meant to do for someone. I would appreciate any comment on that from a monastic reader. And it's true that going deeper within can be hard on the emotional and spiritual level. There are dark nights of soul and even the more terrifying dark nights of spirit. Some of that I have been going through as well. In that I have been grateful for all the prayers, encouragement, and support I receive through my little internet presence. There is no way except through the most burning love of the Crucified, says the great spiritual teacher of our Order, St. Bonaventure. The Holy Spirit reminds me how he has been drawing my toward Christ crucified for a long time, through times when I didn't understand the call and didn't know how to ask about it, through times when I didn't understand and demanded--in my arrogance--that God tell me what it meant, to now, when I grasp just the little bit that's enough to keep me going while at the same time trying to let go of the greediness for clarity that is an excuse not to risk losing one's life for the sake of the Gospel.

In the end it reminds me of one of the most delicate discernments in the spiritual life; that, in a way, at the same time, you have to find the willingness both to surrender to the person you were created to be and dream yourself into being. I suppose they only seem like a different sort of exertion.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. And don't stop blogging, even if it's only once in awhile.

Sr. Dorcee

Brother Charles said...

Thanks for all the encouragement! Let's keep praying for each other!

Unknown said...

I am not a monastic, but I do have a monastic heart. As a retired woman, I say that I am on a perpetual vacation. There is here, the same kind of daily sameness that you are experiencing in your life. I too have trouble, sometimes, figuring out what day of the week it is. Now one would think that since I have so much time on my hands, my spiritual life would be flourishing. Au contraire! It seems to be just the opposite. I don't know if it is a dark night of something, my physical problems, laziness or what. But prayer is becoming more and more difficult. I fall asleep praying the Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary, during my feeble attempts at meditation. I long for contemplative prayer, but I do not experience it. I am restless, distracted and becoming thoroughly disgusted with myself. My prayer life these days seems to be little nuggets of prayer sent up frequently during the day. Little bits of adoration, love, thanksgiving, contrition and petition. It's kind of like living on tiny little snacks instead of good healthful meals. I hunger for more! Thank God for RCIA! It keeps me going and stimulates my little grey cells. I am working on a series of attractive handouts for each week based on the topic for the week. We have a carefully worked out schedule for the year and each of has chosen the topics we desire to present. I am choosing Scripture quotations with artistic illustrations for each topic. It's fun and is engaging me in research to fine the appropriate, or most meaningful verses of Scripture.
So, dear Father, I think I understand where you're at. Let us pray for each other. Perhaps St. Francis will throw you a shovel so that you can dig yourself out of your particular mire. Perhaps St. Gertrude or St. Gemma will throw one to me. But then, perhaps this is the cross that the Lord wants us to embrace. If that is the case, then, Lord give us the grace we need to embrace it willingly.

Brother Charles said...

@Judy Thanks for sharing your faithfulness.

Louis M said...


What you are experiencing is ora et labora, that same ora et labora of the Benedictine tradition.
I work 6 days/week (I am in a short stretch of only 5 for the next 2 months-woohoo :) ). It seems that "all" that I am doing is ora-ing and labora-ing. I experience the same thing that you describe...a cycle that really never stops.
Promise me that you will take at least 2-3 days (consecutively) off. If you will, I will. I haven't done that in almost 12 years. :( (Not complaining, particularly in this economy, mind you). Would be nice to go on vacation with the famiglia for more than just Saturday afternoon and Sunday...
Maybe you could post your sermons here on "no other subject for the blog" days???
God bless you!

Louis M said...

@ Judy:
Your RCIA is your prayer. :)
Paraphrasing Mother Teresa (I believe): a life well lived consists of small moments done well. Very few of us get to have Francesco d'Assisi, or Benedetto da Norcia or Teresa of Calcutta moments. Remember: she went through a dark night, too--for decades. Don't give up hope. :)

Anonymous said...

There are moments when we don't need to have anything new or profound to say. Even just our mundane presence may be all that a friend, or family member needs from us at that moment.. God bless everyone tonight. Cecily.

Louis M said...

God bless you Cecily and everyone here.