Second Sight

Sunday 27 September 2009

If the early monks [the desert dwellers of the third century] paid close attention to themselves, it was only because they knew that rigorous self-analysis was an indispensable spiritual practice. Change was the point of the discipline, and they nailed narcissistic self-definition, correctly, as vainglory. To people schooled in a religion that has often seemed to define sin as a grocery list of dos and don'ts, these monks can seem, as the Dominican Simon Tugwell explains in Ways of Imperfection, "rather casual about morality." They were not all concerned, he writes, "that people should behave correctly according to the rules, but rather that people should be able to see their situation clearly for what it is, and so become free from the distorting perspective which underlies all our sins."
Kathleen Norris, Acedia and Me

I've been thinking a lot the last few days. I commented recently on a blog post (here) about my inability to attend a church building. I said, "why would I commit myself to something like that?"One of the comments was this, which has given me food for thought:

I get what you’re saying. I feel the same way sometimes.

I think you see where dealing with the awkwardness and difficulties and failures to connect are pretty much what “loving the church” actually means in context, too. All that crap you instinctively dislike is more or less what you, as a Christian, are being groomed to overstand, forgive, transcend and love and grow through; saying “why would I commit myself to something like that?” is just unrepentant hypocrisy and we should know better.
I thought it was an interesting comment and while I bridled a little at it, of course it is something I need to keep in mind. I can criticise Christian communities' sin and failure and refusal to admit their own sins, corporate and otherwise, truly. That is what I mean when I say "why would I commit to something like that?" If the community I join cannot be true and real and vulnerable with itself and its people and me, then I do not wish to be a part of it. I cannot. I cannot be a part of a group that is unrepentently hypocritical itself. But I cannot be an island unto myself either. What is one to do? (I guess one is to wait and ask. But I have been waiting and asking for an awfully long time now, I cannot help but wonder whether I am being deliberately obtuse in hearing in this regard or whether this is one of those thousand years as a day type scenarios. Perhaps I am waiting for perfection. I don't think so. I am waiting for transparency though).

And yet, of course, the same defections I criticise in those communities are the same ones in myself. That is probably why I dislike them so. I have had cause over the past couple of days to see a little bit more into my capacity for acedia, betrayal, commitment phobia, lust, and on and on and on. I am viewing these things as I do from within what has been the greatest evidence outward of these propensities in me: my leaving of a perfectly good, though not perfect, marriage. The things I told myself about brighter horizons. The daydreams about other men, the insistence that I could not stay and it could not be fixed. I did not believe that life could flow after death. It's been a most sobering experience for me to realise how little I see in this regard, how I viewed my marriage like a consumer (with a hope to upgrade to a Christian model). I am, after all, a product of the same culture that I despise and decry. It's just easier to see it in the culture than it is within me. Because what I see within I despise and scapegoat, I guess.

(And yet, of course that description of leaving my marriage is a one-sided simplistic sort of one. I had nothing left after being sick for so long. I was sort of falling apart and I couldn't stay. And yet ... and yet ...)

But it is safe for me to view my murkier depths, from within the enfoldment of God. I know that I am loved. I know it not because I prod myself to believe something that will be good for me to believe. I know it because I know it. But still, seeing these things hurts. I am so much more and less than what I used to think I was when I was more blind than I am now. And now I am less blind than I was, I know that I am pretty damn blind. *Sigh*

(And a sigh of relief, paradoxially, also. I need God to see. I cannot do without him/her. And the small realities and seeings that slowly, drippingly, over days and weeks unfold are so different to what I once thought. Where once I thought small and constricted now I see a little bit more how beautiful things are in God's economy. I am understanding the differences between wholesomeness and holiness, for example.) Places where I have hope that I can one day stand).

HT to Barefoot Barbara, who I have linked to not once but twice in this post :)


  1. Sadly, Sue, there are no perfect Christian communities. I am stretched between two at the moment. I have resolved the dichotomy by calling one my parish and the other my prayer group. The latter is a complex situation I will not get into here. You have to shop around and find one that fits you. The priest at the parish is intelligent, upbeat, someone I can talk to. At one point in the past I really did not like him. He did not change; I did. The community he leads is varied and active in many good projects. There is room for everyone to contribute. I am made to feel welcome and yet keep a low profile. And a nun essentially runs the parish for the retired Italian priest and the pastor who are in residence! It is not perfect, but for now it works. I will be testing the waters by getting involved in a small faith-sharing group soon.
    It is easier, I suspect, to slip in and out unobserved in a normal-sized Catholic parish than a smaller Christian community. Maybe a church with generous outreach and a decent-sized congregation would suit you, provided the pastor was not a jerk. There must be one around somewhere.
    The challenge is to find God in all the "wrong places."

  2. Hey Barbara. That parish you're with sounds bearable ;) You're right, there is no perfect Christian community. That's not even what I am looking for, really, but more transparency.

    When I read your words about a church with generous outreach and a decent-sized congregation, I felt my toes curl up so haha, I don't know about that :) I really don't think I could do the Sunday morning thing. But never say never, right? You never know what's round the corner, I guess, and God does have somewhat of a sense of humour :)

    God in all the "wrong" places. That sounds like a good thing :)

  3. God does like to put us way out of our comfort zone. I went to the Sunday morning place with husband and kids this week, wow! Andrew found it boring and the kids played lego, I tried to like it, but really the best bit is talking to people at the end, and the people are lovely!

  4. CB - how did you get Andrew to go along? That must have been sort of strange :)

    You're so right, the people are lovely. I just don't know if I can go through the sideshow to get to the people, you know? You know how difficult I find it to do those sorts of things, haha :)

    I'm glad you went though. I'm glad that if you need it you go, you know?

  5. Sigh. I wish I didn't understand this post, but I do. Entirely.


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