Because in the school of the Spirit,
man learns wisdom through humility,
knowledge by forgetting,
how to speak by silence,
how to live by dying.
-Johannes Tauler

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

the neat freak

Julie and I have found many differences between us as we've lived together this year, and one of the most obvious is in our housekeeping styles. When I first moved in, I would see Julie's friends here and there, and they would say, "How is it living with Julie?" And I would honestly say to anyone, even now, she is a great roommate. But then they would make a comment like, "She says you're really clean!" That always struck me, because I didn't just hear it from one or two people, but from a few! I wondered what Julie was thinking in making that comment to so many people - if maybe she found this to be annoying or a problem or something. 

We laugh about it sometimes, because if you were to observe each of us walking into a room, you might note that by time I've left, it looks like a vacuum has gone through. By the time Julie has left, it looks like a tornado has gone through. I think I'm exaggerating for both of us, but it does paint the right kind of picture: I'm really neat, and she is, well, let's say more free in her placement of objects. 

One explanation I offered is that it has to do with the composition of our minds. Julie is quite level-headed and sensible, organized when it comes to projects and committees, and generally knows what's going on and how she feels about it. My theory is that because her brain is so organized, her room doesn't have to be. She's got it all in order in her head, so why waste the time ordering all the paperwork and whatever else that goes with it? 

I, on the other hand, am not quite as even-tempered. I recently heard it said that if a man's brain operates like a waffle (everything in boxes), a woman's is like a plate of spaghetti (I'm sure you understand this analogy). Well, I am a plate of spaghetti with red and white sauce, meatballs, mushrooms, onions, garlic pepper, and parmesan cheese. Ew. What a mess. 
So, because I feel like a crazy person more often than I'd like to admit, a clean room (a place for everything and everything in its place), organized email inbox, a boxed and neatly labeled calendar, and generally, an organized style of living is crucial for my sanity. I can't cook if the kitchen is messy. I can't write a paper if there's stuff all over my desk. I can't sleep if I have clothes on the floor or books out of place on the shelf or stuff on my bathroom counter that should be in a cabinet or drawer. 

Hi, my name's Missy and I may or may not be borderline OCD. 

It's a blessing and a curse, as you might imagine, but I've been wondering if maybe this is why this idea of poverty and striving to live that out has become so attractive to me. The less 'stuff' one has, the less one has to clean up or keep track of. And of course, this does not just apply to material possessions. A life that is rightly ordered and balanced will bring with it peace and calm. That means not having more than is needed, taking the right amount of time to sleep, to work, to eat, to exercise, to recreate, and most importantly to PRAY, and within each of those things balancing routines, diets, exercises, activities, devotions: living life to the full. Certainly how that plays out looks somewhat different for everyone, but our bodies, our souls, and our minds were created with definite, non-negotiable necessities: you must sleep, you must eat, you must pray (this could be the lone subject of an entire post), you must do some sort of physical activity, you need down time... 

I do a lot of rambling on here, which means you could have probably guessed my mind looks like that spaghetti plate I described. But through this experiment of poverty, and in continuing to order my life rightly, hopefully I can at least switch to penne pasta. At least then the noodles aren't so tangled. And as we all learn at some point or another, you can't switch up the recipe without the help of the Executive Chef. +

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Saint of 'Darkness'

You can tell me to stop, but I'm really hoping you won't. 
Mother Teresa continues to blow my mind. She is so incredible! I am beginning to love her more and more. I came across this in one of her letters, which was published in Mother Teresa: Come, Be My Light - The Private Writings of the "Saint of Calcutta" edited with commentary by Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C., the postulator of her cause for canonization.

"...The Word of God became Man -- Poor. -- Your word to God--became Jesus-Poor and so this terrible emptiness you experience. God cannot fill what is full.--He can fill only emptiness--deep poverty--and your "Yes" is the beginning of being or becoming empty. It is not how much we really "have" to give--but how empty we are--so that we can receive fully in our life and let Him live His life in us....
This is the poverty of Jesus. You and I must let Him live in us & through us in the world."
-Mother Teresa

And I've just been posting things as I come across them and they relate to poverty. There is so much more! With hesitation, I'd like to point you to a website I created for a class project, one that I hope to continue developing and growing over the rest of the semester. It's definitely a work in progress (so don't judge me!), and I'm not sure what I hope it to become or what it even could be with my limited web development skills. More than anything, I wish it to be a tool that points people towards beautiful Mother Teresa so that they too might be touched by her light in their lives. You can find it here.

"If I ever become a Saint-- I will surely be one of 'darkness.' I will continually be absent from Heaven--to light the light of those in darkness on earth." 
 - Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Monday, October 18, 2010

but wait! there's more.

So, to keep carrying on about this whole September business, you know, not eating out, I want to talk about why it was less difficult than I expected. Sure, it took more meal planning than I might normally do and it also took some creativity when it came to getting together with some friends. Instead of meeting someone for breakfast, I invited her to join me in my apartment, which ended up being a lot more fun anyway! I was actually surprised at how very easy it was for me to avoid (for the most part) the restaurant industry. There were times when my parents fed me (thanks Mom!) or I went to a friend's house for dinner. One day a co-worker and I who normally eat lunch out now and then decided to each pack a different dish for lunch and then we shared them. 

Other than the two times I mentioned I ate out (1 breakfast, 1 dinner), I managed to eat some other way, and most of the time I did not even think about it as a sacrifice! I found other ways to be social, and I found myself at the grocery store more often. Both good things! And every now and then, I would think to myself, "Gee, I might like to slack off tonight and eat at that restaurant or that fast food restaurant." But knowing I couldn't, I didn't dwell on those thoughts for long. 

I was healthier in terms of time, energy, and nutrition. Much like this whole year I've saved time by not spending it in the mall or other stores, I saved time by not eating out either - restaurants can be time consuming! As a student and full-time employee, I needed every minute of the time that was spared. Even though it takes more energy to cook for yourself, I saved energy by not being as social - after a long and challenging summer I took a step back and took a breath. Even social butterflies can get tired flying around to all those beautiful flowers we call friends. And I'm not one to count calories much and I hardly ever step on a scale (if I get up the nerve, I might blog about all the poverty that entails some day!), but I do try to eat healthy, just because I enjoy that type of food. Not eating out and doing more grocery shopping and cooking for myself made more room for that! 

The good news is that after the month of not eating out, I did not immediately run out to the nearest restaurant and order the most appetizing thing on the menu. When some co-workers invited me to lunch a few days after the experiment "ended," It was very surreal. I found myself thinking: "O yeah, I'm free to go out now. September is over. I've 'done my time'." But I almost didn't want it to end. There is such a freedom in detachment

I'm sure the difficulty of such an undertaking would increase with the duration, but truthfully, maybe this is what we should have been doing all year! There were never really any guidelines for our poverty as it relates to food, and as I sit here typing this, I'm a little dumbfounded as to why not. One of the most basic human needs and one thing that can really set apart the truly impoverished from the rest of the population is access to edible and nutritionally-adequate food. So why hasn't this been incorporated into our experiment? 

Truly, I have learned a lot - that I do not doubt. But as the year has gone on, I have realized more and more, that we are barely skimming the surface. +

Friday, October 15, 2010

relative success

Following up from my last post, I wish to share a story of how a gift that I was humbled to receive affirmed my decision to "politely" proceed with dinner plans I had made with co-workers during September. 

Two of my female co-workers and I try to study together once a week or once every couple weeks (although, one has a Masters, the other has a Ph.D. so why they're studying is beyond me - I'm the only one with actual homework to do! Although that might explain why I'm the one who is the most focused...). Often, we will plan our study sessions near a restaurant we've been wanting to try, so that after a couple hours of hitting the books, we have as our motivation the reward of a good meal waiting for us. Not only does it help to have some study buddies, but it is nice to spend some time "off the clock" with a few co-workers and to enjoy each other's company. 

We had already scheduled a study/dinner night for the middle of September, with our destination the Cheesecake Factory, and rather than backing out on them and delaying the evening til October, I decided it might be better to go ahead as planned (they were not aware of my commitment) and tack on an extra day or two at the beginning of October in reparation. However, I was feeling quite guilty about it, especially the day of our plans, and kept thinking to myself that if I was actually being strict with myself in this experiment, I wouldn't have relented so easily. 

God hushed me, though, when quite unexpectedly, that very day after daily Mass I received a thank you card from the priest for the work I had done all summer as a sacristan for the young adult Mass here in Indianapolis, and inside was a gift card: to the Cheesecake Factory. 

Someone once brought to my attention the fact that this is not about being so stubborn that "come hell or high water, I will not eat out this month!" but that it is more about the spirit of the undertaking. In the case of my Cheesecake Factory experience, I had to surrender to the poverty of 'yes'. By adhering to our plans and "breaking my commitment" I had to swallow my pride, proceed with the dinner plans, and realize that not eating out for a month is not about gaining bragging rights or proving that I can do it: it's about what I learn by making (or not making) that sacrifice. The fact that I even set out on that path and was open to the lessons that would come with it is more important than if I "succeeded" in the mission of the month. Success is such a relative term anyway. 

This experiment is not perfect, and I realize that more and more each month as I think of a greater challenge, a more authentic form of poverty that I should be living, but my shortcomings do not limit God's work in and through this experiment - it has still been beautifully fruitful. +

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

to humbly receive

I would like to share about my month of September: I tacked on another challenge to the experiment. I decided to avoid eating out, as a sacrifice and a more truer form of poverty, and well, it was both more and less difficult than it should have been.

The more difficult part was a result of a condition I have: I am a social butterfly to the core. I'm not really one to eat out unless it's on social terms, and that probably occurs more frequently than is healthy, for many reasons (see post on time). So because it is a normal thing for me to grab dinner or lunch or coffee with a friend or relative, my breaking that habit presented quite a moral dilemma at times. Do I eat out to be polite because someone has invited me, tell them I'm busy until October, or witness to them by sharing about what I'm doing and why I'm doing it (hmm...good question...) and perhaps actually make an impact with this experiment? 

It's hard to know what the right answer to that question is, and I think my conscience, in it's moments of rationalization, would like to think that depending on the circumstances there are different right answers. Maybe polite society would argue that this is true, but you don't win souls for Christ by being polite. 

There were two instances where I did eat out, both because they had been previously scheduled, but also because, to be honest, I didn't rise to the challenge of being a witness. I chose the polite route. Was this the result of a fear of humiliation?

People in poverty - financial poverty - do not have the money to go out to eat very often, if at all, and so I imagine that status comes with a lot of humiliation. It is extraordinarily humbling to admit to someone that you cannot afford something that they can, not only because it is a blow to one's sense of self-worth (which, for too many people, is defined by their income and material possessions), but also because there may come a time when betraying your financial status elicits charity. 

In our independent and self-sufficient society, it is difficult to accept generosity in whatever form it may present itself, and isn't that a crying shame? Of course our world is broken: in their selfishness, people forget to be charitable - to be loving - and so is it any wonder why there is a lack of trust and willingness to accept charity when it is offered? To accept God when He manifests Himself in the form of love, of generosity, of a gift that our pride does not allow us to receive? 

In a cut-throat culture that takes and does not give, it can be hard to believe that someone might actually be good enough to be capable of this charity. I cannot help but think this may be why so many people reject the greatest gift ever given to us: Life, found in the Most Holy Eucharist. 
God Himself comes down and allows us to consume Him in the simple form of bread and wine - the Creator of the entire universe allow us to take Him into our mouths! He willingly travels through our bodies, feeding our souls, filling us more than we could ever hope to be filled by anything else: and all this, humbly, only if we choose to receive Him. To receive His Gift. of Everything.  

More to come. +