Friday Five – Volume 77

— 1 —

As a rule I generally avoid reading through the comments after an internet article for two reasons: combox trolls and simply not having enough time. But I caught this one the other day and (to me anyway) after this article and I thought the comment provided an excellent description of the Bible.

I look at the Bible like an owner’s manual for life. The purpose of an owner’s manual (written by the designer and manufacturer) isn’t about telling you what not to do. It’s about telling you how you will maximize value and health of the product. My lawnmower owner’s manual doesn’t tell me I can’t use it to knock down corn stalks in my garden. However, that’s not the intended use so I can’t expect complete enjoyment of this product if I use it in a way it was not intended to be used. The Bible is beautiful in its elegant way that it instructs us how get the most fulfilling life according to the designer. Therefore, when someone says it tells us what positions and what not, it tells me they don’t have a real understanding of the Bible. They are railing against a caricature of the Bible. – (Paul W)

So many base their opinion of the Bible on what they think it says. Or they see it as a book of rules, of don’ts and can’ts and such. In other words they approach it from a negative viewpoint. I chose a long time ago to see it from the other vantage point and that has made all the difference.

— 2 —

Continuing down the quotation path, here are a few that have been sitting in my inbox:

“Reason can but speak. It is love that sings.” – Joseph de Maistre, French philosopher

“Satisfy your demand for reason always, but remember that charity is beyond reason and, and that God can be known through charity.” – Flannery O’Connor, Letter to Alfred Corn, June 16, 1962

“I had rather believe all the fables in the ‘Legend’ and the Talmud and the Alcoran then that this universal frame is without a mind. And therefore God never wrought miracle to convince atheism, because his ordinary works convince it.” – Sir Francis Bacon, “On Atheism” (essay from early 17th Century)

— 3 —

In early January I proclaimed on Facebook that 2014 would be a year of listening. I was reminded by a friend at our son’s high school baseball game the other night that I was blowing it. I’m still on Facebook and have opened a Twitter account. Yes, the end of the world is nigh, because TWITTER! Actually, I opened an account strictly for the purposes of reporting my oldest son’s baseball scores to news outlets. Otherwise I avoid it and once he’s done this fall I suspect I’ll delete the Twitter account.

Matt was right though. I’ve pretty much failed in my goal so far of listening twice as much as talking (or typing). This week at home we took delivery of three bookcases for our living room and I’m in the process of transferring books from downstairs to bring those that we want to read to an easier place of use on our fourteen new shelves. It has already brought a semblance of peace to our upstairs as it has caused us to be quicker in turning off the television and browsing for a book to read. The first quarter of the year is over but I still have nine months to listen.

He choose Tolkien. He choose wisely.

He choose Tolkien. He choose wisely.

— 4 —

Paradoxically I am a fan of big sound in other areas. The musical combination of orchestra and voice. It’s why I’ve always enjoyed progressive rock like Kansas, Pink Floyd, Yes or Genesis. Rock opera such as that performed by Queen, or more classical fare such as the Ode to Joy or O Fortuna.

My favorite pieces of music involve something else: the telling of a good story. This is where singer/songwriters such as Nanci Griffith, Lyle Lovett, Don Henley and Difford & Tilbrook (Squeeze) enter the arena.

I was going to write a vanity post of sorts at some point regarding Kansas as I’ve been reliving my childhood and teenage years by listening to their entire catalog this year, from 1974’s Kansas through the present. Until then, let’s talk musicals.

— 5 —

My daughter, like many daughters I imagine, simply cannot let it go. No, really…she cannot stop playing her soundtrack CD from Frozen and it’s driving her crazy that we haven’t purchased the DVD yet. (We have, but she doesn’t know she will receive it at Easter.)

Between her stints on Broadway where she won a Tony for her roles in RENT and Wicked, and winning an Oscar for Frozen, Idina Menzel took part in the twentieth anniversary concert and recording for the musical Chess. Now Chess was already my favorite musical as it was written by the two male members of ABBA, was a story ripped right out of the Cold War drama and the international intrigue of my youth, and was released as a fantastic Original Cast recording in the mid-1980s. I’ve never stopped playing it.

And then came this.

Chess in Concert was released to DVD in 2009. Filmed in London’s Royal Albert Hall it stars Menzel, Josh Groban, Adam Pascal, Kerry Ellis, the fifty-piece London Philharmonic, the London Studio Centre Dancers and 100-voice West End chorus. It is impossible for me to pick a selection for you here because there are so many standout songs and performances, so I’ll just start near the beginning with numbers that feature the orchestra, choir, Pascal and Menzel. If you have two hours it is worth your time to watch all sixteen “parts” that someone loaded to YouTube. It is well worth your time and money to order the DVD for yourself.

Chess has been called a cynical love story without the element of hope. If you grew up with the spectre of the cold war, détente and mutually assured destruction hanging over your heads then yes, this captures the era in which it takes place. But there is, of course, always hope, and the breathless beauty of the music and performances outshines the despair in my view.

The human spirit always endures. It always hopes.

What happened at Nebraska Mile Marker 348

All of the names in the story below have been changed. But the story itself is true.

*****

Westbound on Interstate 80 in central Nebraska. Approaching the scene of the accident.

Westbound on Interstate 80 in central Nebraska. Approaching the scene of the accident.

It was just after sunset when the young man announced that they had missed their exit and needed to turn around. He was driving the car eastward on Interstate 80 in central Nebraska. The problem was that the next exit was several miles ahead and they were already late. So to save time he told his young wife in the backseat of their little hatchback that he would find a place to make a quick turn back into the just-setting Midwestern sun. Looking quickly at the sleeping baby in the rear-facing car seat next to him, he found a place to turn through the grassy meridian and began to slow.

“1-2-3-4-5. Breathe.” Janet said to herself quickly as she breathed into the baby’s nose and mouth. She had been repeating this cadence out loud and to herself for over fifteen minutes. Littered around her were the shattered remains of two cars, four passengers and their possessions. A few feet away lay the overturned car seat.

“1-2-3-4-5. Breathe.”

“What the fuck is going on?” a man was screaming nearby. He had been doing so while wandering around from body to body ever since she and her husband had arrived on the scene of the accident. “Would somebody please tell me what the fuck happened?” Janet was to learn later that night that he was the driver of the crumpled hatchback and father of the baby boy upon which she had been administering CPR. His name was Ben. His baby’s name was Joshua.

“1-2-3-4-5. Breathe.”

Behind Janet the county police officer was treating Joshua’s mother for shock. She had multiple injuries and was covered in blood. The officer had been performing CPR on Joshua when Janet and her husband arrived only a minute after he did. The ambulances were on the way from the small east-central Nebraska town of York, but it would be a few more minutes before they arrived.

“1-2-3-4-5. Breathe.”

Ben maneuvered through the center meridian on the small dirt bypass road used by county and state authorities for turning around on the interstate. It was not to be used by pedestrian traffic however due to the speed with which oncoming cars would approach. He looked eastward to his right and seeing nothing except a few headlights far off in the distance had made the turn onto the far left shoulder of the westbound lanes. He didn’t want to merge right until his speed had approached 60. It was the last thing he would remember until the shock of the accident abated.

“1-2-3-4-5. Breathe.”

Janet had checked for a pulse and couldn’t be sure if she felt something faint or not. The babe’s half-closed eyelids showed pupils that were dilated and unresponsive. She refused to give up or stop until the ambulance arrived. Her own first-born was in the car on the eastbound lane’s shoulder in his car seat while her husband directed traffic around theirs and other responder’s cars with his large flashlight. The adrenaline was in high gear and she would not feel the ache in her knees or lower back until home in bed hours later. Again she leaned over Joshua.

“1-2-3-4-5. Breathe.”

The impact must have been deafening. The woman was driving westbound in the left lane of the interstate on her way home. Although the sun had set and twilight was growing darker, she still had not turned on her lights while driving towards the softening orange-purple on the horizon. In her fifties, with her headlights turned off, she began to veer off towards and onto the left shoulder of the highway. She never saw the small hatchback that she was about to hit.

“1-2-3-4-5. Breathe.”

“Would somebody. Please. Tell me. What the fuck happened? I don’t understand! I don’t understand!” From his vantage point above the wreckage below him in the meridian Alan could see and hear the wails coming from Ben as he stumbled around the scene. Keeping one eye on the traffic and another on his wife applying CPR, he had made a quick mental survey of the carnage. Two crumpled cars sat across the median. The smaller hatchback’s rear end was crushed and the windshield was gone. Behind it with its front crumpled back like an accordion sat the four-door sedan.

Working in the middle of the carnage on the still, lifeless form was Janet. Alan surmised it to be an infant due to the car seat nearby Janet, as well as the blue blanket on the grass. Behind Janet to the west was the sheriff’s deputy, kneeling over a woman who looked to be in bad shape. She did show movement occasionally. The officer had parked his car on the westernmost portion of the scene and shone his headlights east for light. On the opposite, eastern boundary of this drama was a body that had not moved since their arrival, uncovered. Alan couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman from the distance and due to it resting at the edge of the darkness. He could only see that a body was lying there amongst the tall grass and weeds. He learned later that the sheriff had found no signs of life when he first arrived and realized the extent of the trauma before him. All the while the younger man, the only one upright in the grass-covered area, continued to stumble around and scream constantly in confusion.

“1-2-3-4-5. Breathe.”

Upon impact Joshua’s car seat had been launched like a missile through the hatchback’s windshield. Whether or not the seat belt had been in use I never found out. I say “I” dear reader, because for this tale I have chosen that name for myself. For approximately twenty minutes I watched Janet calmly and consistently administer CPR to baby Joshua. I watched her continue until the ambulance EMTs arrived and assessed the scene. Once ready, they relieved her from her work. While Janet had to stay for another twenty minutes to give her statements to the arriving police officials, I continued to watch my son, himself a child of fourteen months, sleeping in his car seat in the backseat of our car. He slept under a blue blanket very much like the one lying in the grassy weeds next to Joshua’s as yet unmoving body.

Finally, Janet was free to go. I had not spoke to her since we arrived on the scene of the accident a few minutes after it happened. The only assistance that arrived was the lone officer and upon seeing the situation Janet had directed me to stop. A physical therapist trained in CPR who helped design and establish the cardiac rehab program at her hospital, she recognized instantly that she was needed. I pulled off as far to the right shoulder as I could and stayed with our car. I left only to direct traffic with a trucker who had pulled his rig over to help force traffic to slow. Until his flares were lit all we had was my flashlight. Our son slept through it all.

We drove the rest of the trip home in silence, my wife staring ahead and coming down from the adrenal rush. Ninety minutes later, when in bed, the enormity of it all hit her. I won’t speak of this here.

A few days later she contacted a nurse she knows at the hospital where they took the victims of the accident. The driver of the car that had hit the hatchback was in fact pronounced dead at the scene. Alcohol was allegedly suspected as a contributing factor though we never knew that for certain. The parents of Joshua were recovering. She would have a long road ahead physically. Ben had escaped with minor injuries. The mental scars will remain for a lifetime.

When the EMTs relieved Janet they had found a weak pulse on Joshua. Immediately he was loaded into the ambulance and it sped off as there was a chance for him to survive. Twice on the trip to the hospital he had to be revived. He arrived at the hospital in the same condition but died very shortly after.

Later my wife told me that there was no visible signs of trauma on little Joshua. The six-month old boy “looked like angel…a sleeping angel” is what she told me. Only a very small drop of blood on his forehead was present, and she wasn’t even sure that it was his or his father’s.

We pass by the scene of this accident several times each year on the drive to visit Janet’s family. We never speak of it, but after watching this powerful PSA about texting while driving (you must sign in to verify your age in order to view it as it is graphic) it was brought back to mind. Particularly because of a 2-3 second scene involving a baby.

I will preach no sermon. I will not tell you what to do. Texting was not the cause of this particular accident that claimed two lives and scarred at least two others.

Instead I’ll say this: know your first aid. Get certified in CPR. Period.

Be prepared. It’s not just a motto for Boy Scouts. It’s for all of us.

*Disclaimer: I have also seen first aid courses that recommend 2 quick breaths followed by 30 compressions before another breath is given. Even while googling infant CPR I discovered both methods being taught. Check with your doctor, nurse or a person you know to be certified to be sure. And then get certified yourself.

©2009, 2014 Jeff Walker. All Rights Reserved.

Agatha, Rose and other miracles

chapel

This is where I was for part of last Thursday morning.

After months of discomfort and pain for her.

After tests and weeks of awaiting their results.

After not saying anything to anyone for the entire time until we broke the news to our children a few days before and assured them everything would be alright.

After driving my bride to the hospital at 5:15am for pre-op.

After kissing her goodbye as she was wheeled into surgery.

This is where I sat.

And knelt.

And prayed.

As I did a thought entered into my mind.

How many prayers have gone forth from here?

How many tearful pleadings?

How many angry demands?

How many were answered?

I know the answer: all of them.

But not all of them answered in the preferred manner of the asking.

Mine has been answered in such a way.

This time.

Meditating on the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary.

Meditating on the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary.

_____

A little later I ate alone in the hospital commissary. For three days I visit, and each day I bump into someone I know.

The mom and little brother of a boy who I coached in little league.  A nurse who is the mom of one of my oldest son’s teammates. A co-worker of my wife.

In solitude I did a little people watching. The Korean family with the cutest little girl ever, toddling around in bare feet with ice cream and happy squeals on her face.

The pretty young nurse in her scrubs and long ponytail, smiling her big dimpled smile as she read text after text on her phone.

The Asian-American man who made my beef philly sandwich who smiled as he watched me herd my two youngest through the line on the last day. “I have six kids,” he said. “I know what it’s like.”

“I have three. My oldest is a senior,” I smiled back.

“You’re a young pup!” he shot back. “I have two grandkids. Ain’t it great?”

Yes sir, it is.

_____

On our way to the commissary I walk my children passed a large sitting area with a fireplace and a grand piano programmed to play soft music. Walking by it from the mezzanine above my daughter is fascinated by the music coming from a piano with no one sitting at its bench.

“The hospital has hired a ghost musician. Her name is Agatha. She plays every day.”

Eyes roll. “Da-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-d.”

_____

The elderly volunteers who man the desk in the waiting room are amazing. When I check in with them I give my name, which they memorized and never forgot during my time there. Rose reads my sweatshirt with my son’s high school baseball team and asks about it. I tell her he is a senior.

“What are his plans after baseball and graduation?”

“He’s enlisted in the Marines. He leaves this fall.”

She smiles and tells me of her own two boys who were Marines. One was drafted by the army during the Vietnam era after he took a semester off from college to work for tuition money. He walked next door to the Army recruiting station and “signed up to be a Marine because he was mad at the Army for drafting him.” We both laugh, but I notice a slight sadness behind her eyeglasses. Eyes that smiled earlier are not smiling as much now.

After I return from the chapel she tells me the doctor is ready to give me a post-op report. I’ve met with him several times in the past as he is the man who helped us through years of infertility, questions, pain, heartache. After the birth of our first child it took us another seven years and a miscarriage. Dr. H helped us through in a manner consistent with our moral beliefs after we’d left other doctor’s offices disgusted and distraught.

Still, in this tiny room, he described the surgery that took place in words that went way over my tired and stressed mind. But in the end we found common language.

How many people have sat in this chair in this room and felt the same way?

How many did not receive a positive report?

Did Rose put her arm around them to comfort them when they emerged in confusion and pain?

_____

My wife’s recovery room is a few doors down from the baby nursery. Ten years ago it also housed the NICU, which has since been relocated to another area. It was in this room that ten years ago I sat beside an incubator and watched my second son of a few weeks struggle for life. I sat in a chair and listened to the monitors beep with each heartbeat and the respirator record his breathing. Several times he stopped. Each time I nudged him with a gloved finger so he would breathe again. When I walked him by this room on Sunday and told him the story he stopped to look inside through the window, lost in thought, while looking at two brand new baby boys in their knit caps. I had never told him that story before.

_____

pianoReturning from our lunch the kids and I pass the ghostly piano again. Walking down the stairs we approach it and I say “Hello Agatha” to the empty piano bench. I lift the keyboard cover to show them the keys being “played”.

My daughters eyes widen and she grins. “I do believe in ghosts!” and then she looks at me sideways to let me know she’s humoring me once again. It’s a little game we play.

_____

flowers

I believe in prayer.

I believe in healing.

I believe the nursing staff at this hospital to be the best.

I believe in the skills of our doctor.

I believe in the wonder and trust of a child.

I believe it’s going to be alright.

Our home is awash in the most beautiful scents right now. Floral arrangement galore.

Our freezer is full (and getting fuller) of meals prepared by family and friends who know that outside of a BBQ my culinary skills are good enough to feed me, but not three children and my wife. For me to feed them consistently would take a small miracle. And while I do believe in miracles…

I, too, believe in friendship. It is a most under appreciated miracle.

wheelchair exit

Going home.

Talking to the Moon

Blue-Moon

Scotch in a glass: two fingers of Laphroig;
I cheat and add ice to ease the slow burn.

On my deck in a steady breeze
sitting under a canopy of stars and full moon.

A dull hum of traffic from the distant freeway
alternates with the honking of geese in night flight.

Silent questions that need asking,
only God isn’t answering. Not yet

though over the years I’ve learned
to give Him time.

Henley sang of talking to the moon over thirty years ago.
Tonight I do the same.

History repeats.

__________

Last week I received news that makes it necessary for me to step back from the daily Lenten blogging I was doing in regards to the book Divine Intimacy. I had too many irons  in the fire as it was, and now that fire has been stoked to a volcano. As such I’ve had to stop this series in order to focus on things that matter.

The lines above were a stream of consciousness that I pecked into the ColorNote app on my smartphone late last week after a lengthy conversation with an old friend via personal messages. I was already sitting outside on my deck under the moonlight when she and I began to converse about life, its challenges and possible next steps, and of moving forward. A company vice-president by day she is an aspiring musician and songwriter by night. After sharing a few of her lyrics with me she encouraged me, and not for the first time, to give it a go. I don’t think that’s a medium I am built for but I admit that once you start looking around you do find a lot of possibilities. But in the end I’ve avoided poetry or lyrics because I’m afraid. I’m afraid of the emotions I’ll find buried beneath the rocks and life’s terrain that I laid to rest a long time ago.

Let the dead bury the dead.

My lines above are not meant as lyrics. They were simply my inner musings intersecting on a night in which I was considering the possible future while absorbing news from the present and reflecting on the past.

I was just talking to the moon.

And the wind across the plains
Is all that now remains
And the night shakes loose the names
But they never quite go back the way they came – (Don Henley)

The Examen

Divine Intimacy
#103 – Examination of Conscience

Over the last three days our text has touched upon the aspects of mortal sin, venial sins and other imperfections that separate us from God. A question that you may have asked is “How do I learn to recognize these events in my daily life? How do I become aware of them so I can put a stop to them, or recognize the virtues I do possess?”

To insure an orderly and progressive growth in the spiritual life, we must know ourselves.  We have to consider our sins, our weak points, our evil tendencies, as well as the progress we have already made, the favorable results we have attained, and our inclinations to good. This knowledge of our interior state is obtained through the examination of conscience. The examen considered in this way becomes one of the most important exercises of the spiritual life, since its object is to help the soul to rid itself of everything that might obstruct or delay its journey to God, and to stimulate it to quicken its pace toward Him.

I want to point out something key in that paragraph. Not just that we need to know ourselves and the best way to do this is by a consistent and thorough examination of our conscience. But it is important that we do not use this daily exercise as a bat with which we bludgeon ourselves over the head for all our failures. We must also use this time to consider the positive aspects of our day as well. Our successes; those times we do good. We want to note these so that we recognize them, our capacity for doing them, and our desire to repeat them.

In other words, the examination of conscience attains its end when the soul who has faithfully practiced this exercise can say to itself: these are the inclinations which I must watch more carefully to avoid falling into sin; these, the weak points which I must strengthen; these are the virtues that I must practice most of all. In this way the soul will be able to formulate practical, firm resolutions which will then become the special subject of its subsequent examinations.

The Daily Examen: Five steps towards G-R-A-C-E

The following excerpt is from the series of writings I did about my 2012 Ignatian retreat in which I learned an easy acronym to help me with my examen. I perform these steps each night on my own, or as part of the Compline (Night Prayer) from the Divine Office. I usually do them in a chair where it’s quiet, but now that the spring weather is getting better I will be sitting outside as I reflect on the day. Pick a spot that works for you. If it helps, keep a journal to write out your examination as concise bullet points.

*****

A final subject, the Examen Prayer, was discussed. I already knew a little about this prayer having brought along my book on the subject by Fr. Timothy Gallagher. I liked how Deacon Andrew kept it simple, breaking into the following pieces, using the acronym GRACE:

  • Gratitude: for all that has been given me since the last Examen
  • Request: a petition for the assistance of the Holy Spirit
  • Account of the Day: Review – am I moving towards consolation or desolation?
  • Contrition: in which I make an Act of Contrition and seek forgiveness
  • Enthusiasm: return to my day and know that I am nearer to God than I was before the Examen

The Examen as you may have gathered is much like an examination of conscience. It does not have to be as extensive as that, or exhaustive, and if done every day (as one may do a “morning offering” for instance) it will not need to be. It may be done at the start of your day, done twice a day at Morning and Noon as the Jesuits do, or done as a part of Night Prayer. This is where I prefer to do the Examen as there is a place within the Compline (Night Prayer) that allows time for a daily examination of conscience and it seems the perfect place to do it while the events of the day are still fresh in my mind. It need only take 3-5 minutes, and often isn’t that long once you do it every day.

*****

Here are a few other resources on the Examen:

From the colloquy:

O my God, infinite Perfection, envelop and penetrate my soul with the reflection of Your holiness, and just as the sun illumines, purifies and makes the earth fruitful with its rays, illumine, purify, and sanctify my whole being. Teach me to look at myself with Your eyes, to know myself as You know me, to consider my miseries in the light of Your infinite perfections, to open my soul to Your purifying, sanctifying light. Amen.

___________

For Lent I’m taking a daily walk through Divine Intimacy by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen. It is a book of meditations steeped in Carmelite spirituality and has been a favorite of mine for over a decade.

A better act

spiteful-cub_merging-lane

Divine Intimacy
#102 – Imperfections

While venial sin always consists in a more or less slight transgression of one of God’s laws, imperfection is the omission of some good act to which we are not obliged by any law, but one which charity invites us to do. … my refusal to perform a better act cannot be judged to be good, nor can it be justified by the thought that I am free to omit this better action since no law or commandment obliges me. This would be an abuse of that liberty which was given me by God for the sole purpose of making me capable of adhering to the good, uninfluenced by my passions. In fact, in the last analysis, my refusal to perform the better act always implies a lack of generosity, motivated by a little selfishness, laziness, meanness, or fondness for my own comfort, all of which are evidently contrary to perfection.

For the last few days we’ve been talking about sin, both mortal and venial. But what about a sin of omission? What about when we consciously choose not to do something? Something that we are not obligated to do by a commandment or even a law, but something that is certainly something we should do.

  • Holding the elevator door open for a little longer while waiting for someone to approach.
  • Walking out of our way, perhaps across the street, to close the door on a car for someone who had forgotten to do so.
  • Letting that car next to you merge into your lane when their lane has been blocked off by emergency vehicles attending the scene of an accident.

All of these are things we certainly are not obligated to do and I’m not suggested we all become citizens-on-patrol and get into situations where we have no place. Certainly some common sense and awareness needs to be involved.

However, there is no “Thou shalt hold the door open for anyone at least ten seconds behind you” commandment anywhere. What these simple acts represent are an awareness of other needs besides our own. Selflessness as opposed to selfishness. Doing something that brings comfort to the Body of Christ to which we all belong.

Every kind of imperfection in fact always comes from a want of effort, energy, and fervor in the spiritual life. It is always selfishness which, in one way or another, takes something away from God to satisfy the ego. We are too calculating, afraid of giving too much, and so selfishness clips our wings and keeps us from reaching full union with God.

Step outside yourself this Lent. Take your eyes off your smartphone screen or your own ego. Look around and pay attention to what’s happening around you. Is there something you are missing? Is there a very simple need that you can fulfill?

What’s stopping you?

From the colloquy: Grant me, I beg You, O my God, a strong, generous charity, capable of destroying my selfishness down to its very roots. Amen.

___________

For Lent I’m taking a daily walk through Divine Intimacy by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen. It is a book of meditations steeped in Carmelite spirituality and has been a favorite of mine for over a decade.

Hurting others, ourselves

Divine Intimacy
#101 – Venial Sin

Venial sin, like mortal sin, goes counter to God’s will, although with less serious deviation. While it does not destroy charity, it is opposed to it and therefore diminishes its fervor and vigor, hindering its development.

Venial sins are the little white lies we tell ourselves in order to do things that we know are wrong over and over again. Yelling at our kids. Giving the single-finger salute to the driver who just cut you off in traffic. Giving the salute with your kids in the backseat as witnesses. Looking at porn. It starts off as something small, perhaps a one-time event, or so we tell ourselves. And it doesn’t seem like such a big deal because so many people are doing it.

But it’s wrong and we know it. And the more we continue to do it, the easier it becomes to repeat. We become deaf to the voice in our head telling us to stop. It becomes a habit.

Once venial sins … become habitual, they decrease the soul’s tendency toward God, and increase, on the other hand, its leaning toward self-satisfaction and creatures. Thus, little by little the soul loses its fervor, its sense of sin, and falls into tepidity, which is characterized by a certain indifference to venial sin. … It is not unusual to meet souls who having at first surrendered themselves to God with sincere fervor, afterwards let themselves fall into continual carelessness, indifference, voluntary omissions, and laziness, because they have given in to selfishness and sought their own comfort.

man_sawing_tree_branch

Once we have successfully smothered that voice that is letting us know we are doing something wrong it is not around to warn us when we take on something bigger, or worse. The lies we tell ourselves compound and it becomes easier to do harm not only to ourselves but eventually to those around us. We cut through the branch holding us in the air and fall onto loved ones below. They were oblivious to our presence on the branch or were below us lifting us up with prayer or ready to support us should we fall. We cut off our union with God and send ourselves falling to the ground below. Thus we land on top of the very people who love and support us, hurting them in the process.

A line from a prayer in the colloquy speaks to this: Indeed the real evil, the only one I have to fear, is neither temptation, nor trial, not interior or exterior contradictions, nor the loss of material things or of health, but only what is contrary in any way at all to my union with You, my sovereign Good! This evil, I see, can be caused by one single venial sin, committed deliberately.

___________

For Lent I’m taking a daily walk through Divine Intimacy by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen. It is a book of meditations steeped in Carmelite spirituality and has been a favorite of mine for over a decade.