Something to say to God

“I like praying the Liturgy of the Hours,” says Leah Libresco

because, at a bare minimum, it gives me something to say to God.  Not just the words of the prayers but, basically, “I’m really grateful for prayer traditions because I’d pretty much suck at having to make all this up on my own.”  Instead of just being grateful for language period, it’s kind of like being grateful for slang — the shared set of references that characterize a relationship or a community.

Jennifer Fulwiler addresses a related phenomenon when she speaks of praying the Liturgy of the Hours:  She realizes that, when the words don’t apply to her life, that’s a good thing, because she is praying as part of the Body of Christ.  She says,

I found myself saying “we” and “our” more often than “I” and “mine.”

We all need the discipline of praying about things that are not immediately relevant to our needs.  She says,

 It all finally clicked. For the first time, I think I really understood the power of the Liturgy of the Hours as the universal prayer of the Church …

As my heart swelled to think of the great drama playing out all over the world that morning of which I was only a small part, I thought back to my words at the beginning of the office — “But this Psalm doesn’t have anything to do with me!” — and realized that I had learned something critically important about prayer: It’s not all about me.”

This is not to say that we can never pray about things that do concern us.  But in my experience, the formal, selfless, ritualized prayer comes first, before there can be any depth of sincerity in individual prayer.

We can, for instance, try to flog our hearts into a sensation of awe during the consecration, but we probably won’t get anywhere.  But if we simply humbly accept what is being offered, and obediently participate in the ritual of thanksgiving, that is what lays the groundwork for heartfelt awe and wonder.

So both kinds of prayer are necessary for us and pleasing to God — both the formal, “ready-made” prayers that we participate in as an act of will, and the personal, immediate outpourings of our own soul.

Praying only in own language is limiting and inadequate — but so, I believe, is only ever praying in the formalized language of the Church, because it’s all too easy to keep it formulaic, and to forget that prayer is conversation, and conversation implies a relationship.

We ought to pray, at least some of the time, in our “native tongue.”  Leah has already discovered this:

When I think of immaterial things, I tend to think of Morality, which might not be that bad as a focus of prayer, even if I need to expand it out a little.  The trouble is I also think of Math, and since it’s much easier to think about clearly and distinctly, I was running into a problem.  I certainly wasn’t intending to pray to the Pythagorean theorem (which would make me a very strange sort of pagan), but I was drifting away from trying to talk to a Person and over to just thinking about immaterial ideas.

And kudos to her for noticing the problem!

So, basically, instead of fighting these thoughts, I kept thinking about whatever math concepts popped into my mind.  I thought about when I’d learned them, how exciting they were, and the way I got to share that joy with my friends.  Then I basically reminded myself, “God is Truth, so he totally shares your delight in these things.  In fact, he delights in your delight and would love to draw you further up and further in to contemplate and be changed by higher truths in math and in everything else.”

And that meant I was basically thinking about a person and a relationship again.  In my own weird little way.

Brilliant.  Leah is drawn to truth; it’s her native tongue. For others, it’s goodness; for me, it’s beauty.  Pythagoras doesn’t do much for me, but corn on the cob bubbling away in my blue enamel pot as the steam sifts through a shaft of evening light? This is something I invariably hold up to God, so we can delight in it together.

The saints all found different ways of praising God according to who they are, according to the native language He gave to them.  And so we have St. Francis in his tattered robe, and also Josemaria Escriva with his precisely groomed hair; King David with his wild dancing, and Mother Theresa washing wounds.  All of them related to God with some combination of formal language inherited from the Church, and spontaneous outpourings of their particular kinds of heart. These individual orientations are not something to struggle against; they are languages which God gives us so we can sing love songs to Him.

Do you speak to God in your native tongue?  Or do you hide your personality from Him?  Do you compartmentalize your spiritual life from your daily experience?  Or can you remember that everything that is good comes from God?

This is the main thing to remember when we pray, and when we live our daily lives:  “He the source, the Ending He.”  Both root of idea and flower of expression.  Here’s Hopkins:

the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

This is how we become more like Christ:  by allowing God to refine who we already are. We become more like Him by speaking to Him in our native tongue. If, like Leah Libresco, we are looking for “something to say to God,” we could hardly do better than, “Here is what I am, Lord. Make me more like You.”

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This post originally ran in a slightly different form in the National Catholic Register in 2012.

Image: The Astronomer by Johannes Vermeer [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Gianforte is not an outlier. He’s the new normal.

Greg Gianforte, who is poised to become Montana’s next Republican congressman, was charged with misdemeanor assault this morning after he choked and body slammed a reporter to the ground yesterday, shouting, “I’m sick and tired of you guys! . . . Get the hell out of here! Get the hell out of here!”

The reporter, Ben Jacobs, made an audio recording of the assault, and eyewitnesses confirm that Gianforte assaulted Jacobs, broke his glasses, and began punching him when he was on the ground, after Jacobs repeatedly asked questions about the new report on the American Health Care Act.

Gianforte’s office claims that it was Jacobs who initiated the aggression. Eyewitnesses say this is not so. Here is the audio recording of the incident:

A little more about Gianforte. He’s the founder and CEO of the Gianforte Family Foundation, an organization which, among other things, bankrolled the donation of a T. rex and acrocanthosaurus exhibit to the Dinosaur and Fossil Museum in Glendive, MT in 2009. The Billings Gazette reported that the museum teaches that dinosaurs coexisted with humans.

The museum’s founder and director, Otis E. Kline, Jr., says of one of the exhibits in his museum:

“There’s two ways these fossils could get to Kansas, and one is the evolutionary way; the other is the biblical creation way,” Kline said.

“The evolutionary way says there was an inland sea that came from the Gulf of Mexico. But the biblical creation way says it was the flood of Noah’s day.”

The Gazette reports:

The funds [for the museum] were raised through a nonprofit Kline created, the Foundation Advancing Creation Truth.

Not, you notice, a foundation for advancing the truth about creation, but a foundation for advancing a certain story of creation, even though there is no evidence for that story and plenty of evidence against it (and even though serious Biblical scholars, including Josef Ratzinger and John Paul II, affirm that Genesis was never meant to be a scientific treatise!). Rather than looking hard at measurable evidence of how the world came into being, they’re creating a false, emotionally appealing dichotomy of faith vs. science, of us vs. them, rather than of true vs. untrue.

Why is this anecdote relevant? Because the GOP has steadily, aggressively working to earn a reputation as the party that not only doesn’t care what is true, but will bowl over anyone who tries to report what is true; because it’s not a matter of true vs. untrue, it’s a matter of us vs. them. Who do you want to win? Them?

Remember, Trump spent his campaign training his fans to bleat, “Fake news!” every time they heard something they didn’t like, even when it was manifestly not fake, just unfavorable to him.

Remember, during his campaign Trump called to “open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money,” and in March, as president, he tweeted “Change libel laws?” suggesting that New York Times reporters should be sued for reporting unfavorably on his policies.

Remember, Trump suggested to James Comey that he should jail reporters who published information that Trump himself saw fit to discuss with the Russian ambassador.

Remember, it was the Trump administration that introduced the nakedly Orwellian phrase “alternative facts.” To paraphrase Groucho Marx: These are the facts. If you don’t like them, well . . . we have others.”

That Trump and his admirers and wannabes lie when convenient is a given — and that’s certainly not confined to the GOP. All politicians, left and right, lie left and right, and they mostly get away with it. This is nothing new.

But what we are seeing is something more: an open campaign to keep those lies afloat by damming up the sources of unfavorable information — threatening them, encouraging legislation against them, or just plain knocking them to the ground and punching them because you’re tired of their questions.

This is a phenomenon to watch very carefully, in big government and in your local government, too. If you’re an American, remind yourself frequently that our founders spilled their own blood to escape from monarchy — to extricate themselves and us from being ruled by someone who was above question and above reproach, whose word was truth.

It’s well and good not to blindly trust the media, and it’s excellent to read, watch, and listen critically, asking yourself frequently, “How credible is this story on the news?”

But if “Don’t trust the media!” is your clarion call, ask yourself whom you do trust, instead. Where are you getting your information from? From the guy who’s trying to shut the media down, sue them into oblivion, break their glasses? Why would you do that? Who behaves that way, if not the guilty?

As Trump supporters have said in a different context: If they haven’t done anything wrong, they have nothing to fear. If it’s true for Mexican immigrants when ICE is in town, surely it’s true for our president when the microphones come out. If he’s done nothing wrong, why is he so afraid of the press?

Don’t let yourself say things like, “Well, that reporter was being very aggressive; he got what he deserved.” That’s his job. Don’t let yourself repeat, “This is what they get for writing all those negative stories.” That’s their job. Don’t allow yourself to say, “I never trusted the media anyway, so it’s no great loss if they’re not allowed inside the White House.” That is their job. Make them do their job. Insist that they be allowed to do their job.

I would have been thrilled if the New York Times et al had done their job better when Obama was president, and had held his feet to the fire the way they’re doing to Trump now. Now they’re doing their job. Better late than never. Better now, before it’s too late, and we lose our hunger for the truth altogether.

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Image of First Amendment under scaffolding by tacomabibelot via Flickr: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

 

Don’t bother lying to God

When my mother was a new Christian, she was in with a crowd that put great stock in outward appearances. Since she had many more kids and much less money than everyone else, she felt horribly self-conscious about her house, which was shabby and cluttered despite her constant housekeeping. She got in the habit of saying, if someone stopped by, “Oh, please excuse the house. We’ve been away all day and I haven’t had a chance to tidy up!” or “Sorry about the mess around here! The kids have been sick and I’m so behind.”

Then one day, she just got sick of it. The smarmiest, must judgmental neighbor of all happened to drop in, and she said, “Well, I’m sorry about the house. This is how we live.”

I wish I knew the rest of the story. Did the judgy woman gasp and flee? Did she tell everyone that Mrs. P. lives like a pig and isn’t even ashamed of it? Did she (it’s possible) think, “Wow, that’s kind of refreshing. Someone just told me the truth”? It’s possible that the woman was even grateful that someone trusted her with some difficult information. It’s possible she went away and asked herself why it was that people felt they needed to lie to her.

Telling the truth is says something about us, and also something about the person we’re talking to. When we tell the truth, its a risk to ourselves, but also a great compliment to them.

The older I get, the less patience I have for people who try to shine me on. It feels rude to be lied to. Do you think I’m too dumb to know the truth? Too weak? Too shallow? Who has time for pretense? There’s so much nonsense in the world that we can’t get around. Why add to it by pretending to be someone we’re not?

I’ll tell you something. God is even older than I am, and he has even less interest in hearing lies. My brother Joe tells about a priest who had a big problem. And he was mad. Mad at the world, mad at his situation, and mad at God. So every day, he went into the adoration chapel, knelt before the Sacrament, and told the truth: “I don’t love you, God.”

Every day, every day he did this. Until one day he said it, and he realized it wasn’t true anymore.

I’d like to know the rest of that story, too. I do know that it’s never useful to lie to God. It’s never useful to lie to ourselves about what our relationship with God is. It’s never useful to run away from God, and refuse to talk to him, if we feel like we can’t say the right things or feel the right things. No one has time for that, and it’s an insult to God to even try it. If you feel like you have to hide, then tell him that. If you feel that he’s not fair, tell him that. If you aren’t even sure he exists, tell him that. There’s no time for anything less than the truth.

Utter honesty is a luxury we do not always have with the rest of the world. Civility, duty, and charity often demand that we reserve such blunt honesty from other people, at least most of the time. So do what you need to do when you’re presenting yourself to the rest of the world. Sometimes it’s appropriate to lay it all out there; sometimes you will want or need to be a little more guarded.

But not with God. Never with God. Go ahead and tell him, as you open your front door, “This is just how I live.” It doesn’t relieve you of the responsibility of changing things, if that’s what needs to happen; but God will not help you change until you are willing to talk to him about where you are. He is a gentleman. He only comes in where He is invited. Honesty is an invitation he always accepts.

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Image By Miguel Discart (2014-04-05_14-13-49_NEX-6_DSC08220) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons