Ash Wednesday approaches. We will soon be presented with thoughts and symbols of loss. Some parishes and church communities will evoke desert imagery and talk about journeys. Other parishes and church communities will emphasize soul-searching and penance.
I will think about being rooted in reality.
Reality is what it is and not necessarily what we want it to be. And one frightening reality is that we do not always know who we are or what our sins really are. In a way, the lucky person is the one who has "hit bottom" in some way, and finally is forced to face the truth of who she is and what her sins are. She is lucky because for a long moment she understands in sharp clarity not just "Who I am" but "What I must do."
Normally we cover up our real selves with layers of custom and language. But I am not complaining about wearing clothes from wrist to ankle, or watching one's diction, or telling little white lies to set others at their ease. We can cover up our real selves just as easily by wearing an impudent expression with trampy clothes, or mistaking bad language for "honesty", or saying everything that is on our mind in the vain hope that this is a praiseworthy "keeping it real." Underneath all that surges a tide of confused dreams, loves, hates, virtues and vices that carries us away, often unseeing, in its undertow.
A priest I know once said that people don't usually know what their real sins are. They confess what they think their sins are, but never get down to the real problems. "If you think your bosom sin is X," he said--I am thinking back six years, so he probably worded it differently--"it probably isn't. It's probably Y or Z."
Normally you are supposed to go to a spiritual director to find out what your spiritual problems really are. But sometimes you meet people who bring the worst in you out into the open. This is not always, or perhaps even usually, their fault. And, unfortunately, they are sometimes members of the opposite sex, which makes everything that much more fraught and horrible. I can just bear to watch Long Day's Journey Into Night because most of the emotional violence is between parents and their sons and between brother and brother. Watching a man and a woman emotionally flay each other alive would be too horrible for me--although, come to think of it, children of unhappy marriages witness that sort of carnage all the time. Lucky me that my parents weren't like that.
Occasionally children witness physical violence, too, and I have a special horror of physical violence, particularly the kind we think is "fun." Girls think it is fun and romantic for men to fight over them until the moment it actually happens. One punch and that little fantasy is shattered. My friend McK once sighed over the hypothetical kind of girl who would slap him if he said or did the wrong thing; I say he'd no longer sigh if it ever happened. He'd probably go scarlet with the restraint not to slap her back. Any kind of violence is frightening--but potentially illustrative of the state a soul is in, which is particularly helpful if the soul happens to be your own.
I think the best thing we can do, when faced with people who bring out the worst in us, is try to find out why--usually with help--this happens and then resolve the situation, if it can be resolved on this side of heaven. Meanwhile, we can hang onto the lessons about ourselves, whatever they are, as warnings for the future.
And that's it for me for the week. I have number of projects I have to catch up on, and in addition I need some Lenten silence. Feel free to chat in the combox.