Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Don't entertain thoughts that you're anything other than loved.

The title of this blog is passion & grace, but I just realized that I have shown neither passion nor grace in the small amount of writing I've done in this blog because I have failed to be transparent. I thought that perhaps it would be inappropriate to be so honest in a public forum, that it would be easier to just stick to philosophy and intellectual arguments; I let societal convention and my own awkwardness tell me what to write, instead of letting Love tell me what to write. But there is a very real darkness, a very real hopelessness in this world, and it is not fought with societal convention, nor is it fought with philosophy. It is fought with love. So, I'm going to write--REALLY write--about love because it's the only thing that's of any real importance. If I refuse to write about love, then I haven't really written at all.

Once upon a time, there was a little girl. She knew love. She liked to share. She liked to smile. She liked to run through her backyard with toy ponies in her hands and wild imaginings in her mind. She had a beautiful mother--a beautiful family--who loved her to pieces.

Then, she met hate. Constant fear. No father. She doesn't really know what this means, but she knows it makes her mom sad. The kids at school don’t like her. She’s weird. She’s shy. She wants desperately to be liked. She lies to seem more interesting, more likable. Friends are hard to come by. Friends disappoint. Friends leave. She’s lonely. She doesn't get it.

She gets older. She gets jaded. She starts to put up walls. She doesn’t want to be seen. She grows her hair long and hides behind it. Don’t look at me; you’ll see just how ugly I am. Ugly as the world where friends attempt suicide, and people die, and everyone's sad. She’s afraid of rejection, so she’ll have reject everyone first. She hurts them before they can hurt her. She’s abrasive. She’s hard-hearted. She’s rude. She’s superior. She feels ashamed. She wants to love, but she’s forgotten how to be loved, so she doesn’t bother with it. There are people who come along and attempt to break down her walls. Most fail. She trusts to the point of idolatry and wants desperately to be saved. Then, she fears to the point of idolatry and wants desperately to be left alone to save herself. The walls go back up. She hurts and gets hurt. She starts drowning in her sorrow. She swims and swims and swims, but doesn’t know how to pull herself out of this ocean she's fallen into. It’s all she can do to keep from losing consciousness.

And, then, something odd happens. She finds herself being pulled onto dry land. She finds that she can breathe again. She’d forgotten what that was like. She’d forgotten what it was like to just breathe.

I don’t know how it happened. I don’t know how I got pulled out of the water. I had no fight left in me; I was exhausted; surrender was my only option. And, when I finally surrendered, it wasn’t what I’d expected. I didn’t sink to the bottom, the way I thought I would--the way I should have if I'd been right all along to think I needed to save myself. But that wasn't what happened. Instead, someone came and caught me. He pulled me out of the rapids which threatened to devour me, and He placed me on dry land. He let me breathe. I didn’t know who it was. I didn’t even know it was a person. I didn't give it too much thought. I didn’t go actively in search of the One who had saved me. But He went actively in search of me. He started calling to me. He started making me think. He started to soften my heart and make it yearn for His. He started to show me that love had been the answer all along.

I switched from third person to first person just now because it is easier for me, not because it is accurate. That girl feels like a person from another lifetime, but she was me. I have always been Aurora, and I have always belonged to Jesus. That small, lost girl, that walking corpse--she, I, was His. She was not her anger or her self-righteousness or her bitterness or her pride. She was not her despair or her hopelessness. She was His, and she was made to dance with Him in green fields, and all along, He was there, driving her to desperation so that she would finally drop her pride and let Him carry her. He preserved her. He did not allow her to seek the affection of boys out of desperation, though she had no real reason not to do so; He saved all of her affections for Himself, such that when she finally said, “Yes, please, carry me,” He might give her her first kiss. The bread and wine touched her lips, but He touched her soul and took root in it and claimed it as His own. He taught her to be happy and free. He taught her how to love with abandon and without fear. He taught her and is teaching her so many things.

Sometimes, I reflect on my life and just can't believe it because I never thought I'd get here. Each day is so beautiful, even when it isn't. Today, I woke up and felt violently ill, and as I collapsed on my bed, sweating, ugly, grotesque, there He was. He didn't think I was ugly; I could feel Him trying to lift my chin towards His face. I felt ugly, though, so I pushed Him away. I did all the “right” things, sure. I offered up my suffering. I said the Hail Mary in my stupor. I tried to experience His suffering on the cross and unite myself to it. But I didn't succeed. Because His suffering on the cross IS Love, and I’d just pushed Love away. I refused to be held and consoled while I writhed in my pitiful state because I was ashamed to be so ugly before the Beautiful One. But look at the cross. Look at it. Look at Him writhe. Look at Him bleed and cry. Look at Him sweat. Should He be ashamed? Should we turn our eyes from Him? Is He too ugly? Or, maybe, is He the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen? Let Him hold you while you writhe because He is writhing with you. Don’t close your eyes. Let Him look into them. Let Him look and breathe love into you. Let Him know you. You spend all your time using your own efforts—in vain—to get to know Him, but have you really let Him know you? Have you given Him permission to know you in your perceived ugliness and given Him permission to tell you that you are beautiful anyway? If you haven’t, you aren’t doing Him any favors. He doesn’t want to watch from a distance. He wants to be there. He came here, as the lowest of the low, spat upon and tortured to death, so that He could BE THERE. Right. there. Deeply in love you with you and you with Him. You do not make His stomach turn. You make His heart leap. You set it on fire. Think of the very deepest love you have ever experienced. His love is greater still.

I obviously still need to learn this lesson, little by little. But please learn it with me. Know that you, too, are Loved beyond your wildest dreams. Please know that you are beautiful. That you have been created for love. That you are precious and bright and made to dance in green fields. If you are like me, then you have trouble believing this. Believe it. Love is real. Love is yours, and you are His. And you are never broken.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Happy feast day, St. Therese! :)

"The elevator which must raise me to heaven is Your arms, O Jesus! and for this I had no need to grow up, but rather I had to remain little and become this more and more."

I love St. Therese of Lisieux. When I was first introduced to the idea of the communion of saints, I was slightly puzzled by the idea that each and every person in heaven loves each and every person here on earth; that the saints actually want to speak with and pray for us. But St. Therese made this tangible for me. She has taken me by the hand in some of my darkest moments and led me straight to Jesus. She even sent me roses during a novena! I have never seen her with my eyes, but she is a dear friend. And I can only imagine how much she must love to have the opportunity to pray for every little one who will ask for her intercession on this, her feast day.

Everything in our society tells us that we'd ought to be self-sufficient, strong, and independent. This tendency is a special source of turmoil for women, in particular, I think because the feminist movement has told us all over and over again, "Don't be weak. Do it for yourself. Don't depend on anyone." But here, in the midst of that struggle, is St. Therese, small and dependent. "I am astonished at nothing. I am not disturbed at seeing myself as weakness itself. On the contrary, it is in my weakness that I glory, and I expect each day to discover new imperfections in myself." She is not ashamed in her weakness. On the contrary, it is precisely this weakness which is her strength. She spent her whole life hidden within a convent; she had no worldly power; but she had something better--the love of God--true strength. It's funny how, after years of believing the lie that I'd ought to be strong and independent, I now smile to myself each time I fall with the confidence that Jesus will pick me back up again. He always does. St. Therese has much to teach us, if we'll let her.

I'm going to do a series of posts on this issue--self-sufficiency vs. dependence--because, like any fundamental conflict, I've found that it pervades every aspect of our lives. May St. Therese, the beautiful Little Flower, protect them with her powerful prayers.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


This is one of my favorite songs ever. For that reason, I don’t feel at all equipped to talk about it because I’m quite sure that I would spoil it with words.  But, since you can’t have a blog without words, I guess I’m going to have to use some, even though I’m pretty tired of them.

The word “love” gets thrown around a lot. I love ice cream! I love this book! I love HELLO KITTY! (Or maybe that’s just me. :D) And then things get serious. I love my husband or wife. I love my parents. I love my child. I love my best friend. But, when asked, I think most of us would have a hard time explaining what that actually means. I used to spend a lot of time thinking about this—what it really means to love someone. It always left me feeling conflicted. I was approaching this question as a staunch materialist, “intellectual” atheist. I didn’t believe in anything other than the purely material world—whatever was tangible or visible. That meant that the whole of human experience could be traced back to the brain (I certainly didn’t believe in that “soul nonsense”), and what was the brain? An organ, just like any other organ, receiving messages from the world and processing them, not just like a machine, but as a machine. The difference between the human brain and a computer is quantitative, a matter of complexity, not qualitative. So, I was pretty confident that there was no essential difference between a human being and a robot. Robots don’t make choices. They’re programmed. I denied free will. All of my supposed “choices” were actually just physical phenomena, no different from the way a ball will roll away if you kick it. If x occurred, then my brain would perceive it, which would trigger neuron y to fire, which would then result in behavior z. All of my experiences and behaviors and feelings could be reduced down to that chain reaction. So, what did that say about love? Could a robot love? Well, I don’t know. If love is just an emotion like any other emotion, and all emotions are really just neural activity, then, yeah, I guess robots could love. Sure. What if it were something more, though? Deep down, I suspected that there was something amiss in my thinking, but I couldn’t figure out how anything else could be true, so I just went with it.

Whenever I talked about this strict materialist determinism, other atheists I knew would say things like, “Oh, well, you don’t have to think like that. I’m an atheist, and I still think that we can make choices and love and stuff.” This never, ever made sense to me. When I pressed them, I never got an adequate answer. It was always just, “Well, that’s your logic, but that doesn’t have to be my logic.” This is something I still hear a lot—the idea that there can be more than one system of “logic” and to think otherwise is simply rigid and closed-minded. I’ll think the way I want, and you think the way you want, no big deal! But, if anyone ever tried to do that in a math class, I don’t think it would go over so well. I shouldn’t make it seem as though I was a fierce defender of logical principles, though—far from it. What’s quite interesting is that, while on the one hand it was quite clear to me that if it was actually true that the conclusion “human beings are essentially robots” necessarily followed from the premise “nothing exists beyond the material world,” then someone couldn’t just come along and decide that that wasn’t the case; on the other hand, I didn’t actually believe that anything could be true anyway. Objective truth automatically presupposes the existence of absolutes—that something can be true no matter what I, or you, or anyone else thinks about it—essentially a God’s eye view—and that sort of objectivity and eternality of truth was inconsistent with the chaos and impermanence of the material world. I mean, truths are essentially immaterial, right? They can’t EXIST the way that a table can. So, my rejection of them necessarily followed from my rejection of all things not material and contingent. But, at the same time, my very rejection of all things not material and contingent was actually a truth claim. I was saying that it was TRUE that the only things which exist are material objects. I was making a claim about reality. I was simultaneously claiming truth and denying it, and, well, denying the existence of truth was itself self-contradictory anyway (“it’s true that nothing is true”—I mean, let’s be honest, that statement is completely unintelligible), so even if I’d dropped the whole materialistic determinism thing, I would have still been in hot water philosophically.

If you’re confused, I don’t blame you. I was obviously quite confused myself. Part of me wanted to just stay confused. I thought there was some merit in being able to live in the face of sheer absurdity and self-contradiction—like that made me stronger or better or something than people who just had to have things make sense. I started to see, though, that there was something very odd going on here. On the one hand, I, as an atheist, prided myself on being a “reasonable” person. I didn’t believe in things without evidence; I pretty much worshipped the scientific method; etc. On the other hand, the scientific method rested upon the existence of absolute truth, and absolute truth is the very basis of reason (the laws of logic are just that—laws—they’re always true, no matter what), but absolute truth can’t be contained in a test tube, and I seemed to think it was pretty unreasonable to believe in it. But that couldn’t be true. If absolutes are the very basis of reason, then you can’t call them “unreasonable” because they’re the very condition for considering something reasonable. It turned out, I didn’t know much about reason.

It turned out, I didn’t know much about what it meant to question assumptions. I always thought that being a “critical thinker” was incompatible with belief. But, in the midst of all the “questioning” I was doing, there was one key assumption I never thought to question: atheism. I just kind of took it for granted that nothing else could be true, but, when I really looked at my own beliefs, I realized that my atheism was not the result of sincere and careful searching. It was not based upon evidence. It was blind faith, the very thing I claimed to despise so much.

It turned out, I didn’t know much about love. After all of those years of atheism, I am Catholic now, and while reasoning and questioning assumptions brought me to a certain point philosophically, they’re not the reason I believe in God.  Christianity says, and is the only religion which says in its doctrine, that God is Love.  That Love is the Answer to every ounce of suffering and misery which exists in the world.  That God is the Love which hangs on the cross, covered in blood, nails tearing at His flesh, small tears making their way down His cheeks, thorns digging into His scalp, legs contorted, His Mother below Him, unable to shield Him as She did when He was small. That Love is He Who places Himself in the hands of His own creation and says, “Go ahead, crucify Me. It’s okay. I forgive you. Please let Me take you Home.” It’s so foreign to me. It’s so unlike anything I ever thought I wanted or needed. It’s indescribable. How can I sit here and try to intellectualize He Who IS Love? I can’t. I want to share a quote by Pere Jacques:
We cannot see Christ and remain as we are. We cannot exchange a look with Christ and not be overcome with a total conversion…Christ is all in all.  Through him, all is made; through him all comes to us.  Therefore, we must see Christ. I stress this point; we must truly see Christ. I sometimes think that we should define the term Christian as “Someone who has seen Christ.” There are only a few genuine Christians, because only a few souls have seen Christ. Countless baptized persons, including even ordained priests and professed religious, remain lukewarm in spirit. Such tepid souls do not pulsate with life nor are they enthusiastic enough to give their life for Christ. They have never seen Christ. Their knowledge of the Lord is verbal, not vital.

During the beginning of my conversion, I thought of it as a mere intellectual exercise, but it soon became clear that there was not anything “mere” about it; that if this religion was true, it meant Everything. It is impossible to exchange a glance with Him Who is Everything in the very depths of your soul and not be converted. It is impossible to stand there with Him and not be moved. And though I could continue to go on about absolute truth and whatever else, I still wouldn’t capture even an ounce of His Light—the Light which came to this most undeserving soul—unexpectedly, while she was in the middle of trying to prove His existence through rigorous logic—saw through all of that intellectualism, and said, “It’s okay. I love you. Let me hold you in My arms. Don’t be afraid.” When that happens, when you meet Him, everything changes. Nothing can ever be the same again. That is not something I could ever hope to capture in words. I guess I'll be trying, though.

So, that’s what I’m going to be blogging about! Life after conversion. And probably a lot of philosophy. I will also most likely post many pictures of bunnies along the way because who doesn't like bunnies?!