Friday, June 26, 2015

The Church Needs Hermits

The Church needs hermits. People used to know this, and understand the counterpoint the anchoritic life provided to the life of the laity.

For 10 years, I’ve had one foot in the lay world and one foot in the monastic world. After my daughter graduated from high school, the balance shifted a little more toward the monastic world. She was pretty independent then, but still need guidance (or at least, I offered it whether she wanted it or not!). And I still have a husband, of course, and I have always taken care to make sure that I am putting my primary vocation of wife and mother before my vocation of “lay hermitess”.

Last week, when I embarked on the child care adventure I described in the previous post, I became more aware than ever of the fact that we need hermits, and why we need hermits. I was working hard to keep my prayer schedule intact, and to also watch over the children. This included driving to and from one house to the other, sometimes with the children, and sometimes without; trips to the park; witnessing an single-car accident (see below!); and generally being forced to be a better manager of my time.

The whole situation was complicated by the little boy’s autistic behavior, and by my desire to help his father find some help for him. I wanted to observe him, encourage him to use words, and encourage him to interact more socially.  I was also trying to engage the girl in various ways, to fulfill her needs for companionship and intellectual stimulation. Besides, she continues to be interested in becoming Catholic, and I am thrilled every time she asks questions about our faith!

All of that takes time and lots of energy! And while it was all necessary and vital to the children’s well-being, it distracted me from prayer. I still prayed most of the hours, but not with the attention, reverence, and devotion I would have liked to maintain!

And that is why we need hermits! Hermits are not distracted by the day-t0-day care of children, the little details of daily living that are constantly popping up in family life, and the attendant worries that go along with all of that. It is good that they are not distracted by more worldly events and occupation! They are thus able to focus more fully on prayer, on listening to God, on heeding His voice as they pray for the salvation of souls.

I stood in my chapel praying vigils one night in the midst of a few days of watching the children, and realized just how different the two sides of my life are, especially with the current situation (I do not care for them all the time; just a couple days here, a couple days there…so far it’s been somewhat irregular). Both sides are necessary for the Church; it’s something along the Mary and Martha dichotomy that is the biblical characterization of the contemplative vs. the active life.

The culture today, both within and outside the Church, has swung far to the “active” side of daily life. So many people today aren’t even aware that a contemplative life is still lived by some! And so many of them are not too concerned about their spiritual lives – not in the present, and not even in the future, looking down the road to the end of their time on earth. They don’t realize that the hermit prays for them, for the salvation of their souls. The hermit does penance for himself and for the world, and he doesn’t have to know the exact circumstances of those for whom he is praying. “God’s will be done” is a great prayer! Sometimes the hermit may have some spiritual insight as to what God’s will actually is in a particular situation, and he can pray for that.

But the point is, the Church needs hermits, and the Church today has lost touch with that fact. Even many bishops and priests seem to be oblivious to the value of the eremitic life.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

This is the roll-over we witnessed - I was so afraid that the swerving car was
going to hit us as it approached us. There were no injuries; the driver
climbed out the passenger door, and there were no passengers.
Thanks be to God!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

A Different Kind of Labora

Well, it's a different type of labora for a wanna-be hermitess, anyway!

This weekend, my husband and I are looking after a couple of kids. The children belong to our daughter's boyfriend...that is another story all to itself, which I don't think I've talked about here yet. I have talked about the girl, though - she is the one who, with no religious training at all, is seeking Our Lord! She will be 10 years old in another week.

At any rate...long story made short: we were scheduled to have the children at our place from 6pm on one night till noon the next day, for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. This would be a piece of cake, were it not for one mitigating factor: we believe the 4-year-old boy has mild autism. 

He was very interested in these picture vocabulary cards,
though he would not repeat the words when I said them.
The little guy is practically nonverbal. He knows how to say "NO" real well, though! He's flown under the radar of assessment and evaluation because we live in a rural area where the resources just are not there, and the parents just didn't see the problem. But I see it. The child is adorable, and can be loving and affectionate at times, but he clearly lives in his own world most of the time.

My thought is that he is trapped inside himself because he cannot express his needs and desires verbally. When something is upsetting to him, he can't say, "But I want to do x, y, or z", or "That freaks me out because..." So it seems to me that when he is overwhelmed by frustration of his desires, or be some unknown (to us) fear, he has a little melt down. He yells and cries and seems inconsolable. And so you can imagine that most of the time, he gets his way, unless the people around him can't figure out what he wants. 

There's an interesting pattern, though. He goes into a full-blown tantrum. He maintains the tantrum for 5-10 minutes. Then he seems to realize he's not going to get his way, and he wants to be held and consoled. That lasts a couple of minutes, then he wants to be set down (if he's being held), and he spends the next 10 minutes recovering by basically hiding from the offending adult, and letting out an occasional yell.  After that, he emerges from his little trauma with a sweet smile and says, "Hi!" That signals that all is well again.

I want very badly for him to get some help!

The little girl is a delight. I am teaching her to play Backgammon, and she also loves to draw. She's interested in many things, and chatters away in a very sociable manner. She's very polite and anxious to please. In fact, she kept trying to get her brother to behave, even when he wasn't doing anything particularly obnoxious (he generally just plays by himself and asks for very little attention from others); at one point she said, "I want us to get a good report!" I assured her that certainly she would have a good report, and her brother's tantrums were not something she needed to worry about.

But it is rather exhausting, because the little boy can't just be put to bed. I don't think the parents put him to bed...although pajamas were sent along for him! He just crashes on the floor when sleep overcomes him. Last night that was about 11pm. That doesn't sound late for most people, I suppose, but it is for us! We are in the "early to bed, early to rise" mode. My husband and I were up at 5am, and the children are still sleeping soundly at 7:30!

Since my background is in developmental psychology, I find this all very fascinating. Another factor is that the parents are just recently divorced, and they live in towns that are an hour-and-a-half apart, so everything that is happening in these children's lives is now new and different. As children do, they are generally rolling with the punches, but I know there is an effect, and we will see that effect emerge more over the next few months.

Bottom line: my prayer schedule will be a bit disrupted for the next few days, but I figure God put me in this situation for a reason. I'm hoping for a complete conversion of the whole family, and everything I do for them and with them has that as the end goal!

Please, in your charity, pray for the children and this whole situation! I pray for guidance in just exactly what to say and do with the parents in order to get the little boy some professional help, too.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Work, But Do Not Worry

From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers:

A brother asked Abba Pistamon, “What should I do? I get worried when I sell my manual work.”

The old man replied, “Abba Sisoes and all the others used to sell their manual work; that is not dangerous in in itself. But when you sell it, say the price of each thing just once, then, if you want to lower the price a little, you can do so. In this way you will be at peace.”

The brother then said, “If I can get what I need by one means or another, do you still advise me to take the trouble to do manual work?”

The old man replied, “Even if you do have what you need by other means, do not give up your manual work. Work as much as you can, only do it without getting worried about it.”

There’s another “saying” I recall…something about one father advising another to “marry off” the disciple who had become bored with prayer – not to an actual wife, but to a garden. Give him something to do, in other words. As much as we might desire to pray constantly, for most of us, our fallen human nature enters in and leads to fatigue or boredom or burn-out. Prayer is hard work. “Work” can be a relief and a refreshment at times.

I like the work of making antependia and altar cloths. Sometimes it’s good just to do something with my hands, and end up with a finished product.  Sometimes, though, the work takes up more time than I want it to, for instance if I must meet a deadline.  At those times, I have taken the advice of Abba Sisoes: I worked as much as I could without getting worried about it. 

While it is always best to have ora and labora in balance, we live in a fallen world, and so it is not always possible to have the perfect proportions. I have found that if the labora takes a big chunk of time for a few days, it is usually followed by some “down time” when ora can take precedence. God makes a way. That’s how I see it, anyway.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.