Sunday, 22 February 2015

In praise of monotony

More Fr Faber for you, as he is proving so popular with my loyal readership:

The spiritual life is the progress of the finite creature towards union with the Infinite.  In all its stages the process of being conformed to God is going on in the soul.  Nothing is indifferent.  Every moment of time may be made to bear the burden of something which is eternal.  Each separate action, no matter how trivial, is capable of holding a supernatural intensity.  The grace, which enables us to do supernatural things, is coming to us constantly in ways that are imperceptible except to the greatest vigilance, and operating in us with such fineness and delicacy as require heavenly discernment, in order that we may perceive them, and cooperate with them.  On the other hand, the unworthiness of our nature is almost unbounded, and its manifold unfitness for such a divine union is disabling us at every turn.  .... Moreover nature to the last draws one way, and grace from the first draws another.  Thus the three leading characteristics of the spiritual life must always be effort, detail and slowness, all three things monotonous, and all three almost insufferable monotony.

If you think that last sentence does not seem to follow directly from what precedes it, the following may help:

EFFORT: this is the perseverance to keep all our actions and thoughts fixed on God.  It is an act of the will, and it can have a severely weakening effect on the body.  It is an act of love. It is more like the slow patient effort of a needlewoman rather than the energetic effort of a sprinter. Also, if the effort is some sort of constipated straining then it is wrong.  Such effort is desirous of a particular outcome, comes from self and is directed towards the pleasures of self. No matter how "religious" its motivation it is little more than the desire for release from painful verstopfung for relief's sake.

DETAIL: recall Faber says "nothing is indifferent".  Everything has significance.  This includes your dress, your breathing, your tidiness, your deportment, how you read words and how you read people, even how your fork approaches your food. (A fasting person can still be a glutton). This is not introspection, detailed self-awarness, when the focus isn't self but mastery of self and ultimately forgetfulness of self is an important step to see if your motives for dressing up/down, fast/careful talking, food likes/dislikes are actually all simply pride. Understanding detail requires mastery of simplicity.  This is a lifetime's work.

SLOWNESS:  effort and detail require nothing is hasty.  Even if you are called to pull someone from a fire, there must be a slowness and stillness in you that are the opposite of panic and feeling like a hero.  Let God work through you, that is the only heroism that counts.

This is the monotony that we must embrace, the monotony of the desert into which we plunge ourselves during Lent, to be alone with the Infinite Solitude.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Random Numbers

To me, one of the dangers of Lent is self-absorption.  If one focusses too much on one's own sin, wretchedness and general crapitude one can easily fog the presence of the Almighty who is doing His best to raise you from you that dunghill that is so uniquely yours.  So whilst some focus on our failings is vital, if the primary focus isn't on those two Great Commandments, then Lent will be another disappointment.

What I find helps is to be extra specially open to randomness at this time.  This involves the giving of self and a great deal of discernment (ie. talking to God) to work out just how much one should give and how.  Random acts of kindness.  Random smiles (until they become habitual and completely sincere)....random intensive listening, feeling the presence of complete strangers around you, allowing random discomfort (thirst in particular), stopping to listen to the geese, watching a random spider, being still at random times.... and then it starts to dawn that randomness isn't all that random, it certainly isn't chaos.......

And as for Lenten reading. This year I decided to opt for a random number generator method: there are 73 books of the Bible, so I typed in the upper and lower limits into this random number generator to see which book it would give me:

And 2Esdras here I come.  Actually it is already bearing fruit (somewhat unexpectedly).  And this is where discernment has to come in, I could be wasting my time.... but somehow, I'm not.... if you try it may be fruitless, what works for me may not work for you....

Actually all the books of Babylonian exile have a resonance about them right now.... I wonder why?

You could type in 1 and 150 and do the same with the Psalms..... this could be 30 mins well spent in a random kind of way. 

Sunday, 15 February 2015

a flattering superstition of self-love

It is time for more from Fr Faber.  I do heartily recommend his "Spiritual Conferences".  In time for Lent, I've been wading through the conferences on "self-deceit".  They make uncomfortable reading especially when he gets to his conclusion that the only time we are really free from self-deceit is when we meet Our Lord face to face: and well it is rather too late to do anything about it then.  He argues effectively and refreshingly against suffering and joy being paths to overcome self-deceit, instead he recommends simplicity in everything as being the firmest ground on which to build up our relationship with God and hence limit the damage done by our self-deceit.[ an aside - I remain convinced that the prescription for more suffering as a way of leading to holiness is fundamentally flawed and has done considerable harm.  Suffering has no intrinsic value, the only thing with value is God's love. Souls do suffer much and many saints have suffered greatly, but it was not their suffering that made them saints, suffering is not a supernatural virtue.]

Here is a taster:

No wonder self-knowledge is rare, when so few take pains to acquire it.  There are few even who honestly desire it.  There are but few men in the world who desire painful things, however salutary they may be; and self-knowledge is both painful in the acquisition and painful in the possession.  It is incredible how little honesty there is amongst religious people in religious matters.... Yet almost everyone claims to be preferring God before all things.  What a mass of unwholesome delusion then must the religious world be! It is.  A supernatural formalism outside with natural principles of action inside, and a thoroughly natural system, or rather quackery, of spiritual direction to keep things comfortable and respectable, - alas! it were devoutly to be wished that this definition embraced less than it does.


Is not life at every turn making unpleasant revelations of self?  But they are revelations, and that is noteworthy.  Yet what sort of wisdom is it for man to shun these revelations, because they disquiet him, when it will so concern him in the day of judgement to have known them? A spiritual life without a very large allowance of disquietude in it, is no spiritual life at all.  It is but a flattering superstition of self-love.