Saturday, 8 May 2010

Food for thought

It's a blessedly lazy Saturday. I try to keep all Saturdays free so I can hide in my room and read, think and sleep to my own cycles, no one else's. Eventually, I'll wander down and check fb and my email, write on my blogs if so inclined, make myself some coffee, and just *be*. And much as I love my housemates, it's even better if I have the house to myself.

So I find myself on the sofa today, slanketed with my hands around a steaming mug of coffee, writing this.

It all started a couple of days ago, as I was awaiting the arrival of the latest instalment of the Matthew Shardlake series, Revelation. (I'm not sure Heartstone is out yet.) In the interim, I picked up an old favourite, Exile's Honour by Mercedes Lackey, part of her Valdemar series that I fell in love with many moons ago. Definitely a universe I would want to live in.

It tells the story of how Alberich of Karse, Weaponsmaster for most of the series, comes to live in and serve Valdemar, his old enemy. Demanding, incredibly tough, intimidating, challenging, relentlessly hard on his students, yet fair and even gentle, a man of action, honour and a moral code that would place him amongst the saints. Not perfect, of course - there's a darkness in him that means he spoils for fights when he can't act, he broods, he's terribly impatient and fools don't last long around him. He's one of my absolute favourite characters in the series, and as I told one of my friends who would get it, "If I ran a seminary, let me tell you, I'd run it like Alberich. You'd be doing pastoral work within a month, including midnight phone calls/callouts - being able to handle that has to be reflex, like good sword work. And the discipline - you'd be seriously f***ed if I found out you were in places I knew you shouldn't be, on websites you shouldn't be, doing things you shouldn't do. And ja, you'd better believe I'd find out."

I expected it to be a pleasurable re-read. What I didn't expect was how it would help me with my current struggle between what I believe and the organisation I've chosen to belong to. This morning, I hit a passage I'd completely forgotten, between Alberich and his Sunpriest, Geri. And it's really helping me get to grips with things:

"I'm hunting for answers."

Geri regarded him with a somber gaze. "You, of all people, ought to know that you aren't going to find many of those here. Questions, certainly, but precious few answers. Ours is a faith, Alberich, not a map or a guide, and certainly not a set of certitudes. At least, that is the way it should be -"

"Not what it has become...We are the mirror of Valdemar-"

"More like the twin. Or we were, before things disintegrated." Geri sighed. "I've had this discussion with Henrick, actually. He is of the opinion that the long slide began with a will to power. I think it's more complicated than that. I think that the priesthood was corrupted by the congregation."

Alberich blinked. "How, exactly?"

"The laity wanted absolutes, answers, and the priests finally elected to give them answers, the simpler the better," Geri replied. "The Writ took second place to the Rule, and a poor second at that. The answers took away all uncertainty, and what is more, took away the need to think."

Alberich frowned; not for nothing had he spent so much of his childhood under the tutelage of a priest who knew - and lived - the old ways. "Above all, the Writ demands that a man - or a woman, for that matter - learn how to think."

Geri nodded. "You see? The old ways require that each person come to the Sunlord having thought through everything for himself. The current rule requires that men become sheep herded in one direction, following one path, pastured in one field, ever and always, so will it be."

"Sheep." It occurred to Alberich that it was no coincidence that the Sunpriests of Karse had taken to calling their congregations by the name of 'flock'.

"Sheep don't have to think for themselves, do they?" Geri made a face. "The Sunlord was reshaped from the Unknowable into the remote but predictable Patriarch, from the Whirlwind into the windmill that grinds - exceedingly small. Do this - you are gathered unto His bosom. Do that - you are cast into the outermost Hells." Geri shook his head. "Answers are terribly seductive. The simpler they are, the more seductive they become."

Alberich turned that over in his mind, and found it certainly matched some of his own experience. "But that isn't the whole of it," he objected.

"Of course not. I just suggest that this was where the corruption started," Geri replied. "Then came the will to power, power that came from giving people what they wanted instead of what they needed, and power is just as seductive and even more addictive than any drug. Now - I don't know, Alberich. I don't know how it can be fixed. Or even if it can. It would take the Sunlord Himself in manifestation, perhaps. And someone as the Son of the Sun who is willing to hold the hard course and be disliked. Even hated."

"And loved."
--Exile's honour, pp. 239-241

And not hold the hard course by protecting the status quo, or blaming non-believers for the state of the world, by insisting that those who will not follow the easy answers offered them are guilty of heresy and should be ostracised.

That is the easy course, and has been followed for far too long.

The hard course is insisting that the laity learn to think for themselves; that they come to the temple to find more questions that will help them grow in their faith and come to their own decisions, not easy answers or dependence on a priest; develop their own relationship with the Creator - one that changes, ebbs and flows as all relationships do. That they develop an organic faith capable of growth and able to deal with all situations - from the mundane to the life-changing.

As my current status says,
The Truth is not afraid to be questioned. The Truth wants you to question it, so it can remove all your doubts. Only then can you be free. ~Stephen Edwards

Absolutely. So if someone has issues with you asking questions or challenging them, then you know one thing: no matter what they claim, they do not have - or are not sure they have - the truth.

But even if they do, they should offer you only these instructions:

To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.
--Alfred, Lord Tennyson


Ariel said...

I really like this, she'enedra.

More and more these days, I'm coming to realise that I don't believe the vast majority of answers to the deepest questions are answerable at all, at least, not for us. There was a time when this scared me, but now I think I'm okay with that.


Athanasius said...

What happens if the laity think for themselves and still come to the conclusion that 2000 years of Catholic Tradition are correct?

Or is thinking for yourself only about rejecting things you don't like?

Irim said...

Honestly, Athanasius, I don't care. As long as they THINK.

I think you missed the point of the exchange. The religion/belief system was NOT being challenged. Note the references to Writ and Rule. What WAS being challenged was the human institution and the grasp for power, which meant that priests saw themselves as dispensaries of THE answers.

Your relationship with God is YOUR responsibility, not the priest's. And when YOU are in relationship, YOU need to be the one thinking, acting, asking questions, listening.

But when one measures things by a pre-fabricated checklist, this is what we get.

"Oh LOOK, I pray the Divine Mercy chaplet, I'm a good Catholic, even though I treat my waitress like crap, b/c she's not like me - she's a *gasp*...Methodist."

I once heard of a woman who saw no need to reach out to her neighbours because she prayed for them.


I have no problems with people preferring a particular type of mass, way of doing things, whatever. Hell, like you, I go to the Oxford O - but I do it because I'm an incense addict and am fond of the community - plus, I find Latin very sexy.

But crikey, the arrogance and isolationist tendencies of the Tridentinists/those who consider themselves more 'orthodox' than the rest of us because of their liturgical preferences. And I don't want to hear the 'but they were marginalised' argument. They were, but no more. It's just an excuse now. They can take responsibility for their insecurities and how they alienate everyone else and grow the hell up.

The difference between them and me is that I KNOW I'm responsible for the people I piss off - and I'll take the consequences.

When people start talking about lace with the reverence that needs to be given the Blessed Sacrament and G-d Himself, something is profoundly wrong. When people speak of those who go to the Novus Ordo with contempt, something is deeply wrong. When people see the means as the end, and confuse the finger with what it's pointing to, something is deeply wrong.

Essentially, what's happening amongst the increasing numbers who do that is fear - being obsessed with how much lace and what kind of vestments (vs being CONCERNED, which is different), rubrics, what Fr X and Br Y are or are not - to the point where you SPEAK OF NOTHING ELSE AND SEE THAT AS A MEASURE OF SOMEONE'S ORTHODOXY - is displacement. It's a way of avoiding a real relationship with God because that will change you. Love always does.

What those obsessed with form want is comfort and certainty - and to quote Gibran:

"Have you beauty, that leads the heart from things fashioned of wood and stone to the holy mountain?

Tell me, have you these in your houses?

Or have you only comfort, and the lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and becomes a host, and then a master?

Ay, and it becomes a tamer, and with hook and scourge makes puppets of your larger desires.

Though its hands are silken, its heart is of iron.

It lulls you to sleep only to stand by your bed and jeer at the dignity of the flesh.

It makes mock of your sound senses, and lays them in thistledown like fragile vessels.

Verily the lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral."

A real relationship with God isn't about comfort, a lack of challenge and not asking questions.

A real relationship with God is ALIVE, passionate, loving - which includes darkness and doubt as well as incense and lace. It lives, grows, changes.

And a living faith brings more questions than answers - b/c we can't have those answers till we go to the other side.

Irim said...

And really, that's the point of the whole conversation I reproduced. Truth wants us, begs us to question it so that we get to know it - and delights when we come up with more questions - because it wants us to engage, and only in engaging with it can it set us free.

My concern - and that of Alberich and Geri - is that attachment to certainty, safety and easy answers is getting in the way of that.

If one thinks for oneself and finds Catholic tradition, Jewish tradition, Wiccan tradition or humanism their way to a relationship with something greater than themselves, from God to being a part of the whole of humanity, and see it as part of their relationship to make their corner of the world a better place...

I could care less than nothing what their conclusion is - as long as it is their conclusion based on real questioning and searching.


The world is my cloister said...

Hi! A very thoughtful post. Thanks - I love it. I am a member of the laity who has thought through the conclusions of Catholicism. Some of it I struggle with - the teachings can be hard, and can even seem cruel. They certainly do need deep and serious consideration - but, there again we were not made to be rational creatures for nothing. Questions are part of our growth, an important and legitimate part, and the answers don't come easy - if at all.

For me, one of the truly miraculous things about catholicism is that we are all in it together, liberal and orthodox, left and right, LMS and the charismatics calling for Vat III - the homeless alcoholic at the back of church, and the lady with the veil at the front. In the words of Charles Peguy: 'We cannot go to the Father unless together.
What would the Father say to us if we arrived, some without the others? We must go together. Christ at the head, we his brothers and sisters following.' From the sandal wearing lefties to the lace wearing clerics. I think our questioning each other, and more importantly listening to the answers, is a great part of that. I am not sure it is about rejection, but more about seeing where people are thinking from.

I have said enough. This is almost a post in itself! Sorry folks. Thanks for your blog post and the comments people.

Irim said...

Hey, cloister, welcome :-).

Brilliantly put and totally agreed.

Come over as often as you like and hon, don't apologise! My comment was much longer than yours :-) - in fact, I had to break it into two!

So please, pop by, read to your heart's content and comment away.

Good to have you here.