Thursday, 25 December 2008

Christmas void

I'm not feeling the love. Or the magick.

When I was growing up in the States, long before I converted, I'd stay up in bed till after midnight Christmas morning with the sense that something special was happening, and I had to be awake for it. Shortly after midnight, I'd fall asleep, cradled, safe in the knowledge that the magick surrounded me.

Christmas always had that feeling, and after I converted, it was even better, because now, I was part of it.

But for the last two years, nothing. 25 December has been just another day. Part of me is terrified that what has happened is akin to what happens with me in relationships or situations where I've been unhappy/accommodating for too long: one day, I wake up and something has snapped. There's no feeling, no desire to keep trying, nothing. Whatever it was is broken.

It's known as the INFJ doorslam. It takes a long time to get me there, but once I'm there, it's not that the door is permanently shut. It's that there is no longer a door.

Not Christmas, please.

It used to be that I'd get excited about buying cards and presents in October/early November. I'd have my cards by 15 November; they'd be posted out by 1 December. The real anticipation began with "Carols from Kings", getting ready, followed by walking down to Midnight Mass/carols at 10pm Christmas Eve night. The beauty of the church, the carols, the first strains of 'O come all ye faithful'. (Note: those who wish to petition the O to have Midnight Mass in sung LATIN rather than English, let me know.) All of it used to help me reach kairos, where I could be in the manger at the Christ Child's bedside.

The last two years, I've been stuck firmly in chronos. To quote people suffering burnout speaking to Rachel Remen, "I don't know what's wrong with me. Terrible [and in my case, great] things happen in front of me and I feel nothing."

For someone for whom reading and picking up emotional resonances is easier than reading a book in her native language, it's like being stripped of a sense...of an ability you've always had. It's not the most comfortable feeling in the world.

I take comfort in Rachel Remen's explanation: we burn out because we don't grieve. We're so full of emotion, we can't hold anything else. As she points out, psychopaths don't burn out.

So she's reassuring me that I'm not a psychopath. *Phew*

But she is telling me that I need to unload. A lot.

As one of my friends said to me a week ago, "Irim, you've worked through a lot of emotional stuff lately, you've been working, learning and still supporting every person who needs you. And you're surprised because you're exhausted, cranky and you don't give a toss about Christmas. I'm not. You haven't stopped to process ANY OF IT. You HAVE to do it. Stop processing for everyone else."

Fair point. Now that I've stopped, it's all caught up with me. So, what to do?

I've heard the suggestion that I should talk to one of my numerous clerical friends. Reasonable suggestion. But, well, no.

"???????" I hear.

I can't. I just...can't. For me, clerical friends are to *be supported*. They get enough emotional drama crap from every Catholic who thinks they need a priest to sort out their lives; they don't need it from me. And whilst I love to challenge my men in black, I wouldn't DREAM of asking them to deal with my challenges. Many clerics are seriously uncomfortable with dealing with negative emotions: anger, conflict, sadness, doubt. Bring up a crisis of faith? Youch. That goes to the heart of their, can't mess with that.

And the ones who can deal? Well, every emotionally psychic vampire in the church (and the conservative wing has more than their share, as a lot of people here are using traddiness to fill a void) has already latched onto them. They need a shoulder; they don't need to BE a shoulder.

No, my spiritual conversations and support come from an eclectic spiritual community outside the church, which include the likes of Ari, Christine, Vera, and so on. The heart-to-hearts and long discussions on the nature of God and the directions in which our faith is taking us are blessed oases on my spiritual path. Often, they are huge pushes forward. But still, not the place to deal with this emptiness, because it's not about my faith in God; that's still there peeking out from behind the faces of my friends and events in my life.

So...where to?

For me, music.

Advent, Christmas and Epiphany have carols with some of the most wonderful and salient lyrics. I find these lyrics recurring at odd moments, so maybe I need to stop and listen:

Fear not to enter His courts in the slenderness
Of the poor wealth thou wouldst reckon as thine
Truth in its beauty, and love in its tenderness
These are the offerings to lay on His shrine

Ah. Maybe that's it. Maybe it's...about what I think I owe God.

Maybe it's about thinking that I have to BE something or FEEL something to earn God's grace. I'm very given to that way of thinking because I'm very given to the idea that one needs to make a difference, that one needs to DO to prove that they have any real faith at all. One of my favourite quotes is Gibran's "Your daily life is your temple and your religion", but perhaps I have been using it the wrong way: your faith should permeate your life, both being and doing; you shouldn't use your faith as a rod to drive yourself to exhaustion, doing what you feel needs to be done.

Let your actions FLOW from your faith rather than drive yourself to PROVE your faith.

Big difference, not least because the second framework means you judge others harshly for not living up to a standard of perfection you expect of yourself. It leaves no room for humanity.


I don't mind entering God's courts without material wealth. That doesn't bother me in the least. I fear entering God's courts in the slenderness of not having been there enough, listened enough, offered enough, tried to change enough, made my corner of the world better enough. Even tonight, I sat with my Christmas dinner balanced on my lap, counselling a friend online.

Enough. It may be my gift, but it doesn't need to be on tap all the time. Occasionally, it needs to be shut off at the mains. Or maybe, I need to let it flow through me rather than *do* it. My gift is to be a vessel for it and remember from whence it cometh.

And how does that tie into Christmas? Expectation. The insistence that I CAN'T be tired, that I HAVE to feel it every year, or I've failed.

The child in the manger wants ME, not the person *I* think I should be. It is, as Rachel Remen reminds us, about wholeness, not perfection.

And there's a glimmer of a star in the East of the void.

Meanwhile, I'm wrapping up in my slanket, processing, having the odd good cry, letting go of the need to BE in a Christmas mood, and entering the Lord's courts in the beauty of truth and love in its tenderness:

I am that I am.


Anonymous said...

OK, first of all, though I can see where you're coming from that is what those clerics are there for. It's, essentially, their job description. Give one of them a go... one you really, really trust.

Also, try reading some John of the Cross. You might also find 'Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the “Saint of Calcutta”’ Ed. Brian Kolodiejchuk interesting.

Just a thought.

Irim said...

Hi, Anon,

I hear you, I really do. It's just that I see way too much of the sleeve-tugging that goes on by those who think that if their child so much as DARES to question a point of Catholic doctrine, it's "FATHER! FATHER! CRISIS!"

At which point I want to tug on their sleeve and say, "You don't know crisis, do you? How about a six-month stint in DRC? Or the cholera epidemic in Zim? It might give you some perspective. And maybe a life, so your child can have one too."

It makes me think that if *I* turn to them and say, "*I* need to talk," it will mean that I'm like...the needy, manipulative ones who suck them dry. *Shudder*

No, it doesn't matter that it would be one conversation; that I know it's not a real crisis; or that I'd take responsibility for MY problem and bring something to the table for solving it - that we'd be more like equal partners in this.

I'd still feel like a burden.

I need to get past it, I know. But every day I walk into church (even better, if we're on our way to lunch/coffee) and see that tableau of emotionally needy parishioner and priest, I feel ill, and something in me recoils at the idea of asking them to help.

Heck, it takes me MONTHS to arrange lunch/dinner with them. Can't imagine what the waiting list is for needing to talk.

Thanks for the John of the Cross suggestion - frankly, I'd rather find a parallel translation, so I could read him in the original Spanish, with the occasional glance over if I needed it. I'll have a hunt round.

Cheers - stuff to think about, definitely.


Ariel said...

*big hug*

Of all the people I know, you are the one who least needs to justify her existence or prove herself. You do so many things for so many people, and touch and change so many lives in the process... and you get so little appreciation from it. All too often people just use what you have to offer, never thinking of the energy it demands of you. Even, sometimes, those of us who love you and ought to know better.

You don't need to prove yourself to anyone, she'enedra. You've already proved yourself many, many times over, and those of us who are honoured and blessed to call you friend know that. Nor, I think, do you need to justify yourself to God, who knows better than any of us what you have done for the world.

What struck me when I read this was a sense that you're trying to prove yourself to someone anyway. Who, and why?


Anonymous said...

I would agree hugely with what Ari is saying. You really go out of your way for so many people, and have made so much difference in their lives.

Also, you speak of oases in your life in that there are people you talk to and discuss things in depth. Keep them. They are gold dust (just like you are gold dust to them, me, and other friends of yours).

Choose a really special cleric? Why? Priests do not necessarily have the monopoly on helping, although there are some who would be good. Mind you, your reaction to those who have shoulders that are being used is only too true. But you have needs too...

I suppose it all boils down to your words at the end of the blog - the Christ Child would like you as you are. And does like you as you are. Because not only are you special and perfect as a person, but you will always (in the mind of the Christ Child and in many of your friends, I'm one of them, I hope!) be special.

Burn out at Christmas? Yes, I've had that for a while now...And I think that part of that is because I try (but usually fail) to do too much, and do not allow enough time for myself, and do not allow myself time to be.

A priest I know of once told a parishioner after confession to go outside the confessional and have a fag (cigarette!!!). At the risk of being sacrilegious, I would almost dare to tell/suggest to you to go have a luxurious bubble bath, with lit candles and maybe even calm music playing. Pamper yourself. You are worth it.

Irim said...

Dear Ari and Anon II,

First of all, a huge *HUG* to both of you. I know how difficult I *can* be - not least from the way I am at the O most of the time, except with a very few. My faults are about the size of the San Andreas, and there are more than a few of them. Thank you - it means a lot to know that my presence has made a difference to you both.

Ari -

[What struck me when I read this was a sense that you're trying to prove yourself to someone anyway. Who, and why?]

Hey, *I'M* the only one allowed to ask the tough, perceptive questions ;). As soon as I read this, I knew you were right, and had to think. Myself and God, above all, I think. My parents, maybe, but I need to consider that more.

I need to think about that one: I have a really uncomfortable feeling that it has a lot to do with a sense of making up for others who I feel don't do enough - parents, etc. I need to explore that more, and I'll do that with you in a more private forum.

Anon II - Bless you, sweetheart. HUGE hug, and that bubble bath is a most wonderful idea on a chilly day such as this.

And a further cleric example: last week, one reacted perfectly on noticing (and I was surprised he did) that I was heading for this: he looked at me, asked "What's wrong?" and on my reaction, put an arm around me. Yes, I would speak to him about this, absolutely.

Within hours, he was dealing with someone else's crisis, and I have a really good idea of how much energy he put into it over the next couple of days. I also have a pretty good sense that a lot of people lean on him.

How can I even *ask* for his time after seeing that?


Anonymous said...

How can you even ask for time after seeing that?

Several reasons: one is that you are worth it too. Two is that you are just as good as everyone else (or better, in many people's minds. Three is that he may want to do something for you (if he can be kind in the way you just described, chances are he will also be able to care). Four is that sometimes when people ask for help they are also tacitly acknowledging that they trust and honour that person enough to let them enter into the dark parts that they'd trust few others to do so. You are worth so much more than that...
Yours ever,

Anon ll