Introit for the Third Sunday in Lent

Mine eyes are ever looking unto the Lord, for he shall pluck my feet out of the net: look thou upon me, and have mercy upon me, for I am desolate and in misery.
Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul: my God, in thee have I trusted; let me not be confounded.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

To Jerusalem

The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.

The Gospel According to Saint John, 4.xix-xxii

✠     ✠     ✠

Symbol of St John the Evangelist from the Book of Kells, ca. 800

The Gospel of John is remarkably elegant. Its style isn’t typical of Greek, but it’s beautiful, and its structure is subtly intricate; I’m convinced there’s not a word in the book that was put there without thought. In my last semester of college, one of my courses was an independent study of John, and in 6.9, at the feeding of the five thousand, the passing mention of the loaves being made of barley establishes it as coming from a poorer family—the well-to-do preferred wheat bread. The detail is just phenomenal.

I’ve been going over the Gospel again, with an eye to the specifically Jewish content and significance of its material.1 In particular, I’ve been reading up a bit on the practices of the various feasts, and I think I’m seeing them thematically reflected throughout the book. The basic structure of John is twofold: the first twelve chapters form what’s sometimes called the Book of Signs, while the next eight form the Book of Glory, with a prologue (1.1-18) and an epilogue (all of 21) rounding out the book. Vague mentions of a feast of the Jews are made in a couple of places; festivals mentioned by name include Passover (2.13, 6.4, 11.55), Sukkot (7.2), and Chanukkah (10.22). I think the whole structure of the Book of Signs is built around several of these feasts.

First there is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. At the time of Christ’s ministry, this was the one day of the year when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies, where the Ark of the Covenant had been kept,2 and sprinkled sacrificial blood before the presence of God to obtain forgiveness for the sins of Israel. Now, we are not told what time of year it was when Jesus was baptized, so this is pure conjecture; but the Baptist uses the address Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world only here; and the fact that a wedding (2.1-11) follows so quickly afterward may reflect the custom of holding weddings shortly after Yom Kippur, a custom which seems to be at least as old as the Mishnah.3 If my guess is correct, that these motifs are meant to evoke the Day of Atonement, then this—like the cleansing of the Temple that immediately follows (2.13-22), which took place just before the Crucifixion—thematically situates Christ’s whole activity in the priestly sacrifice of the Cross. And in John, the Passion and the Resurrection are treated almost as a single event: one of the refrains of the Gospel is the Son of Man must be lifted up, which suggests the elevation of the Cross, the rising from the dead, and the Ascension all in one. It is a three-in-one act, the Exaltation.

After this there comes an explicit reference to Passover, and Jesus is shown cleansing the Temple (anachronistically, because John freely arranges his material for its significance, rather like Matthew) and having a private conversation with Nicodemus, the famous ‘born again’ discourse. Here a new theme comes in, that of the water of life; obviously John the Baptist’s ministry of penitential washing has already been touched upon,4 but the association of water with new life begins here in 3.5, where the Lord insists that Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. He then goes in a slightly different direction, alluding to the Exaltation. But after this, he and his disciples leave Jerusalem and perform baptisms, and the Baptist again bears witness to him; and after that, the theme of water comes out still more strongly in Christ’s address to the Samaritan at the well in Sychar.

But in that discourse I think we see a shift, gathering themes around a new feast. An unspecified festival is noted in 5.1, for which Jesus went to Jerusalem: only three festivals were standard occasions for pilgrimage, those of Passover, Shavuot (or Pentecost), and Sukkot, and I think this one is Shavuot. Liturgically, it commemorated the giving of the Torah at Sinai; culturally, it marked the wheat harvest.

Hints at these themes are given in chapters 4 and 5. First, the Samaritan woman asks Jesus about the controversy over whether to worship on Mount Zion or Mount Gerizim, and he replies (among other things) that Ye worship ye know not what: we know what worship: for salvation is of the Jews; second, he makes an extensive analogy about the harvest in speaking to the Apostles (4.35-38); and thirdly, throughout 5, allusions are made to the preëminence and authority of the Torah—the dispute begins because of works done on the Sabbath (vv. 10-18), the legal requirements for witnesses are discussed (vv. 30-37), and finally direct reference is made to the Scriptures and to Moses and to the Jews’ diligence in studying them (vv. 39, 45-47). All of this is consistent with the unnamed feast of the Jews in 5.1 being Shavuot.

In chapter 6 we return to Passover.5 Here the theme Jesus picks up is that of the manna given to the Israelites in the wilderness; as the first Passover in chapters 2 and 3 touched on themes of new life given in baptism, so this touches on new life given in the Eucharist, and the next is immediately preceded by the resurrection of Lazarus. The increasing identity of Christ with life in the context of Passover—you must be born from above as I am from above; I am the bread of life; I am life—makes the Resurrection of chapter 20 artistically inevitable.

The next feast mentioned is Sukkot, which in Hebrew means tabernacles or booths, so named for the tents in which they dwelt while in the wilderness. (They ritually dwell in similar tents during Sukkot to this day, as the Torah commands.) The teaching of Jesus in chapters 7 and 86 takes the form almost of a cross-examination: Jesus, the people, and the priests alternate assertions and jabs and questions with each other, with Jesus testifying on his own behalf, the people quarreling over the meaning and credibility of his testimony like a hung jury, and the priests making accusations and a foiled attempt at an arrest.7

In the course of this teaching, the Lord identifies himself with the inner meaning of the feast. One of the most joyous rituals in the whole Jewish year was the pouring of water on the altar in the Temple (water drawn from the pool of Siloam, the same place that Jesus sends the blind man to be cured at in chapter 9), performed every morning during Sukkot; the Mishnah3 states that ‘He who has not seen the rejoicing at the Place of the Water-Drawing has never seen rejoicing in his life.’ And on the last day of the festival, he says, He that believeth on me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water: the believer is identified with the altar, and the cryptically foretold Paraclete with the joy of Sukkot.

This transitions—a little oddly, to modern sensibilities—into Chanukkah, hinted at in chapters 8 and 9 and mentioned directly in chapter 10. I say ‘a little oddly’ because, in modern Judaism, Chanukkah is not that big a deal. A pleasant enough feast, but a minor one. I get the impression that it was a bigger deal in Christ’s day; the Temple was still standing, so the festival of its dedication was probably more enjoyable, and it may have had nationalistic and irredentist associations too, since the Jews were unhappy with both Roman domination and the Herodian dynasty, and Chanukkah recalled the glory of the Maccabees’ rebellion. Regardless, the symbolism of light becomes pronounced in chapter 9 with the cure of the blind man. I am the light of the world in 8.12 adumbrates the new theme, as well as recalling the prologue’s dramatic the life was the light of men, and the light shineth in darkness; the dictum is repeated in 9.5, followed by a cross-examination of the healed blind man (echoing the cross-examinations of the Baptist in the first chapter and of Jesus in the previous two), and then by an allusion to the Festival of Lights in 10.22, one of the very few times when John gives us a specific date. Christ has already associated himself with the Temple in 2.19. Here, in making himself the light, he again links his own person to the Temple, and indeed to a rebuilt and rededicated Temple, purified of unclean influences.

After the extended and increasingly tense conflict of chapters 7 through 10, we come to chapter 11, whose chief events (as we know from v. 55) took place not too long before Passover. We have again come full circle, and the life which is the light is again at the forefront. The raising of Lazarus from the dead provokes the plan to have Jesus killed, so that, in addition to being the seventh of the great miracles of the Book of Signs, it forms a magnificent foreshadowing of how the Book of Glory is going to proceed. And although Passover is famous for the death of all the firstborn in Egypt—and Christ, the firstborn over creation and firstborn of the dead, as St Paul has it, is not exempted—Passover is here made the means of life, for life as such cannot be killed, and when you try it just comes back. The Lord has already warned the Sanhedrin that as the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself. Jesus’ identity as Life has been one of the main themes of the Gospel from the very beginning, increasingly so with each Passover, and at this one, the identification becomes complete.

✠     ✠     ✠

1A lot of critics regard John as anti-Semitic; I don’t think he is, but it’s understandable: he regularly identifies Jesus’ opponents simply as the Jews, rather than the Pharisees or the chief priests that the Synoptics tend to use. On the other hand, he shows as much insight into Judaism as Matthew does, and he omits Matthew’s His blood be upon us and our children, while being the only evangelist to record Jesus saying (to a Samaritan no less) Salvation is from the Jews. It’s speculated that John’s Gospel was written after the decisive break between the church and the synagogue, and that his usage reflects that strife.
2The Ark was lost at the time the Temple of Solomon was destroyed (around 586 BCE). Ezekiel 10-11 describes the glory of the Lord departing from that Temple, which may or may not also be a coded commemoration of the Ark being removed by the prophets before Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Jerusalem; II Maccabees 2.4-8 records that Jeremiah concealed the Ark in an unknown place.
3The Mishnah is the first part of the Talmud, which for Orthodox Jews is the authoritative compilation of interpretation and commentary on the Scriptures. The Mishnah was compiled around the beginning of the third century CE, but it’s derived from older rabbinic sources, at least some of which may well date back to the life of Christ.
4And echoed, in the account of the miracle at Cana. A large quantity of water was changed into wine, something like a hundred and fifty gallons, but the evangelist also notes the reason they had all that water around in the first place: not just because, duh, it’s an arid climate and you need a lot of water anyway, but specifically for Jewish purification rituals.
5The exact dates of Jesus’ life are not known. However, according to one theory (which places Herod the Great’s death in 1 BCE, instead of the formerly accepted date of 4 BCE), Jesus could have begun his ministry around 30 CE and been crucified in the year 33, so that the old conventional date happened to be right after all. If this theory is correct, then—allowing for John’s willingness to arrange by theme instead of chronologically—it’s possible to get a rough idea of when most of these festivals were specifically, e.g., the Passover before which the miraculous feeding happened would’ve been our 14th April of the year 32, the miracle itself presumably happening in late March. But do remember, fun though it is to guess about this stuff, this is guesswork. Do not build convictions on it.
6Note, however, that John 7.53-8.11, the pericope adulteræ or ‘passage about the adulteress,’ is (almost) certainly misplaced. The oldest manuscripts do not have it, it interrupts the flow of the Gospel, its style is atypical of John, and it is sometimes found in other places, such as appended to the end of John, or occasionally even in Luke. The passage is generally accepted by scholars and is quoted by several early Church Fathers, but it probably its right place is elsewhere. (My guess is that it properly belongs to Luke. Why the misplacement happened is uncertain, though the inconsistency of the manuscript traditions was noted even in antiquity, and some of the Fathers conjectured that certain teachers had excised the passage for being ‘soft’ on adultery; it may also have gone astray due to arrangements of early lectionaries.)
7Although I don’t say much about it in this post, another prominent motif in the Gospel of John is that of a court. Witness and judgment are frequent terms in the gospel, and, by evoking the trials of Holy Week almost from the beginning (by referring to St John the Baptist as a witness and by relating the cleansing of the Temple early on, instead of in sequential order after the Triumphal Entry), the author of John turns the whole work into something like the minutes of a trial. But it is, also, a sort of reënactment of Jesus’ trial, inviting, and challenging, the reader of the gospel to make a judgment of faith.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

From a Thirty-Second Century Dissertation on C. S. Lewis

The following material is excerpted from the famous doctoral thesis of the esteemed J. O. Trottelmann, Ph. Dim., Do. L. T., &c. His best-known series of books, published between 3130 and 3160 CE, revolutionized the contemporary understanding of the Inklings; this thesis of 3126 was where that work began. The modern student of his work will doubtless be fascinated by this glimpse into Dr. Trottelmann’s early mind.

Brutus Raca, Doctor of Divinity, St Amyalus College, Cambridge

✠     ✠     ✠

The conventional orthodoxy in which we were raised must, alas, be put to rest by serious scholarship. Modern science has made it impossible to believe that a single man like the putative C. S. Lewis, armed only with such primitive technologies as the pen or at most the typewriter, could have completed the multitude of volumes attributed to him; nor could the diversity of styles discernible in the many works written under the ægis of his thought truly proceed all from a single author. Let us, therefore, sweep away the lovely yet in the end only customary reverence for the supposed Inklings, and see what the mastery of a more progressive age can discern beneath the pious fictions of our forebears.

In point of fact, the works attributed to C. S. Lewis can be safely stated to have been written by a minimum of eight discrete authors, whom I shall notate as T, O, C, J, N, A, S, and L. T is the theological source, who articulated the arguments underlying most of the apologetic corpus (though he did not make the final redaction of these works which we possess today). O represents the Oxford source, the work of a literary scholar who sought to aggrandize his work by attaching it to that of the T source. C refers to N. W. Clerk, the name under which A Grief Observed was originally published, before that author similarly availed himself of the greater prestige of Lewis’ name and feigned that his own name was a mere pseudonym. J was the author of Surprised by Joy, who gave an imaginative account of Lewis’ early life, possibly based in part on the testimony of someone who knew the Lewis family. N is the Narnia source, who composed most though not all of the material we know as the Chronicles of Narnia. A, the Aslan source, revised and expanded material inherited from N. S was the main (though not sole) author behind the Space Trilogy. Finally we have L, the Lewis source proper, who collocated and redacted the documents of his seven predecessors, and established them as the work of the supposed Oxford don and Christian apologist.

Whether there was a historical C. S. Lewis is a problem I do not propose to examine much; the multitude of his supposed names (Clive Staples Lewis, Clive Hamilton, N. W. Clerk in some accounts, and the curious mononym Jack) is certainly a mark against the hypothesis, there being no reason for one individual to have so many. But on the other hand, in dividing the Lewisian corpus, I am already so upsetting the conventions of eleven hundred years that I can scarcely afford to embroil myself still further in controversies.

But to return to the thrust of the argument. Sources O, C, and J, I presume to require little argument as not authentically Lewisian. The content, style, and vocabulary of O (to whom I assign the entirety of The Allegory of Love, The Discarded Image, An Experiment in Criticism, A Preface to ‘Paradise Lost,’ and Studies in Words, along with most of the putatively Lewisian half of Arthurian Torso and certain parts of Reflections on the Psalms) are all markedly different from the rest of the corpus, reflecting O’s career as an Oxonian academic, in contrast to the purported career Lewis enjoyed as an apologist and a writer of fiction. (This will require further deconstruction later, naturally.) Likewise, the intimate style, the doubts, the emotional strain, and the mystical resolution evinced by C are in stark contrast to the other works attributed to Lewis, and the fact that C’s work was originally published as the work of one ‘N. W. Clerk’ is yet another indication that its later attribution to Lewis is fallacious. Likewise, while L (and perhaps T) make passing references to the biography of Lewis, only J gives it any shape or content, and is so transparently concerned to give background to the other writings that we can confidently place J as not only a distinct source from the others, but the last to make a major contribution, before L’s redaction of the corpus into a pseudo-cohesive whole.

This leaves us with the theological source, T, and the fictional sources, N, A, and S. I take T to be the mind behind The Abolition of Man, God In the Dock, Letters to Malcolm, Mere Christianity, Miracles, The Problem of Pain, a rudimentary form of Reflections on the Psalms (later edited by the O source), The Screwtape Letters, The Seeing Eye, The Weight of Glory, and—tentatively—The Great Divorce; these display enough shared vocabulary, style, and theological content that they can be safely regarded as the work of a single author. (Dr Clare Kashikoku of Yokohama’s St Paul Miki University, a proponent of the traditional three-source theory, has argued that the Chronicles of Narnia should be added to this list; my reasons for dissenting from her opinion should become clear when I treat of the fictional sources.)

We must dismiss the customary assumption that The Four Loves belongs on this list as well. In terms of technique, it is a Lewisian product of the first order; however, it is so divergent from the other works listed in terms of subject matter, and fails so totally to reflect T’s apologetic concerns, that the idea of its being from the same pen as Mere Christianity is, well—untenable for the serious scholar.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

I, I, I

It is, of course, much easier to demand a prophet than a priest; and it is far, far easier to become a pseudo-prophet than a pseudo-priest. I will not say that almost anyone can be a priest; it would not be true for the priesthood is a vocation. But certainly almost anyone can imagine himself to be a prophet.

Charles Williams, The Forgiveness of Sins

I make no attempt to excuse the feelings which awoke in me when I heard the unhuman sound addressing my friend and my friend answering it in the unhuman language. They are, in fact, inexcusable; but if you think they are improbable at such a juncture, I must tell you plainly that you have read neither human history nor your own heart to much effect. They were feelings of resentment, horror, and jealousy. It was in my mind to shout out, ‘Leave your familiar alone, you damned magician, and attend to Me.’

—C. S. Lewis, Perelandra

✠     ✠     ✠

It’s hard to believe it’s only been Lent for a week. Maybe I noticed Shrovetide more keenly this year, maybe it’s because I adopted a relatively easy discipline this year,1 I don’t know. My mind has certainly been elsewhere—one of my favorite things about a fixed liturgy is that, for somebody like me who has a short attention span and a ‘rich inner life,’ it’s much easier to pick up the thread of devotion if the thread is still there when I suddenly realize I haven’t been attending for the last ten minutes.

Unfortunately, the elsewhere has been me: my sinfulness, my needs, my hurt. One has to attend to those things; part of loving your neighbor as yourself is appropriate self-love, i.e. self-love rather than self-indulgence, loving yourself because you are a self made in God’s image, impartially. Save, perhaps, that as the steward of yourself, you have the liberty of sacrificing pleasures and other goods on your own behalf, whereas sacrificing other people’s goods is against ‘the courtesy of Deep Heaven.’2 But mine has not, I think, been a wholesome self-love. (I think a lot of people assume it must be because I’m nice to people, but sadly, terrestrial good manners are pretty compatible with a reserved yet raging egotism.)

My friend Joey and I seem, as a rule, to wander in similar deserts, and we had this exchange earlier via text:

J: I just want to be right with God, but now it seems like the only way to do that is going to be hurting David, and I’m not ready to do that either.
G: What do you feel/think being right with God would consist in?
J: […] I think being right with God would consist in at least attempting not to sin […] Becauuuusssse I know He still loves me but how can I possibly be a man of any integrity when I don’t even make a pretense of following my own principles?
G: Well, you have the integrity of refusing to make a pretense. That is not something; that’s everything—“without are the dogs and sorcerers and idolators and whoever loves and practices a lie.” […]
J: Maybe. I just feel so much on the Wrong Side Of Things. Sort of shut out. … I’ve always thought of myself as the kind of person who wouldn’t make this sort of compromise. So maybe what’s bothering me is that that self image is not accurate.
G: That can be a terribly painful and humbling experience.
J: Yeah. I mean that’s not a bad thing to happen of course
G: […] The schism between who you want to be and who you perceive yourself to be.
J: Hm. Yeah. When I broke up with Adam, I kind of made it about Doing The Right Thing. But it was also, or maybe even mostly, about preserving my self image.

‘You must learn,’ St Teresa of Ávila said, ‘to bear serenely for God’s sake the trial of being displeasing to yourself.’

I’m cautiously hopeful that God is using my straying to break the idol of dignity in me. Hopeful, because pride attacks us on our strong points rather than our weak ones, which is why self-righteous virtue is among the most hideous and nigh-incurable sins. Cautious, because it is so, so easy to use that line of thinking as a justification for sin.

Pride is certainly my most pervasive and characteristic vice, more even than fornication or self-pity. People don’t always notice it, because my pride is of the highly ethical sort that motivated the Pharisees. It’s pride in justice, obedience, insight, even in generosity and gentleness. Sometimes I act on those virtues for God. But often enough, I act on them for my self-image, the great golden idol in the center of my soul, which may be pleasanter to be around than some idols but is not on that account any less the craftsmanship of hell.

Ideally, I suppose, I’d be pursuing God in the midst of weakness. Acknowledging my failures and flaws, but getting up and beginning again. But I’m so tired. It isn’t so much that it’s embarrassing to go to Confession over and over (I don’t think); but it seems like a slur against my own intelligence to profess a firm purpose of amendment when I don’t, at a heart level, believe that that amendment is possible to me. In brief, I don’t know how I’m supposed to mean to do something I don’t think I’m able to do. I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see another law at work in my members—except personally I don’t even delight in the law of God in the inward man. Don’t want to. Don’t know how to.

And when I say it isn’t possible to me, I don’t mean that it isn’t possible to God. He can give me whatever grace He pleases at any moment. But He doesn’t seem to be giving me the grace of chastity, or of the desire for chastity, even. Maybe that’s my fault; or maybe it would strengthen the interior idol; I don’t know.

The most I can do is (so to speak) keep repeating the Creed. I can’t white-knuckle my way through my whole life, but I can white-knuckle my way through that. And most of the time, I don’t even have to white-knuckle it. If I stay here and wait, I don’t know what He’ll do, but He will do something.

✠     ✠     ✠

1I’m reading through the Gospel of Luke, according to this forty day schema. Of the four, it’s the one I know least well (John I know best, then Matthew and then Mark), so I thought it’d be wise to spend some time with it.
2A phrase borrowed from That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis, spoken by Elwin Ransom, a man who has been to what we call outer space and what he knows, by experience, to be full of the splendors of angels. ‘This is the courtesy of Deep Heaven: that when you mean well, He always takes you to have meant better than you knew. It will not be enough for always. He is very jealous. He will have you for no one but Himself in the end. But for tonight, it is enough.’

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Prayers for Judas

Lilith, checked in her monotonous gabble by the radiant vision who let in the sun’s new light, stared at it with old and blinking eyes. She saw the shape of a woman; and did not know beatitude, however young. She supposed this also to be in need of something other than the Omnipotence. She said, separating with difficulty words hardly distinguishable from gabble: ‘I can help you.
‘That’s kind of you,’ Pauline answered, ‘but I haven’t come to you for myself.’
‘I can help anyone,’ the old woman said, carefully enunciating the lie. … Illusion, more lasting in her than in any of her victims, was in her. At the moment of destruction she still pressed nostrums upon the angelic visitor who confronted her. She broke again into gabble, in which Pauline could dimly make out promises, of health, of money, of life, or their appearances, of good looks and good luck, or a belief in them, of peace and content, or a substitute for them.

—Charles Williams, Descent Into Hell

✠     ✠     ✠

I’ve hit a wall. I would say I’m in despair, but I don’t think that’s quite true. I certainly feel despair; I honestly cannot tell by introspection whether I’ve surrendered to it; I haven’t given up my duties as a man and a Christian—I don’t fulfill them particularly well, but I acknowledge them and make some effort to observe them—so I think I haven’t succumbed.

The sensation of despair comes simply from the fact that I don’t want to be chaste, don’t feel bad when I fuck around, and don’t see why I should do or want otherwise. I don’t love Christ enough to obey him for his own sake, and I don’t fear him enough (or trust him enough, maybe?) to obey him for my own sake. All I have is the bare, cold principle that this ought to be done. And I’ve found out that, at the cost that principle exacts from me, I can’t do it. Or won’t. The strength of sin is the law.

Orthodox Chapel of the Holy Trinity, Mount Sinai

Being without a husband, being bereft of specifically erotic love, is agonizing to me. It isn’t just the depression: I’ve been on Zoloft long enough to know the difference. And I know the arguments about the sacramental meaning of sex like the back of my hand, but when you’re lonely any argument is a whole lot of bullshit, and no friendship can truly substitute for a lover—they’re just not the same thing, they don’t meet the same need, they don’t touch the same wound in the soul. I have yet to hear the Catholic doctrine of sex (which I accept categorically) articulated in a way that made that reality seem important enough to warrant the cost it imposes on me.

I wish I could say ‘me and those like me’ there. But I have a nasty suspicion that, if the shoe were on the other foot, I’d be totally prepared to be merely sympathetic to people who were suffering. To just feel so sad for them, but point out that emotions can’t be allowed to change principles, and leave it at that. In short, to be a complete asshole. So I guess that’s one good thing to come out of this.

But I’m left with the sheer, brutal, staring fact that I don’t want to be chaste, not because it isn’t fun (though, no, it is not fucking fun), but because as far as I know it’s both miserable and pointless. I assent to the thesis that it’s the limits of my knowing that puts that complexion on things. But here I am, and I resent God for asking this of me, because I don’t understand.

There is a demon that the saints, especially the desert fathers, recognized in this vein—the one that comes in the daytime, during our work, to propel us further into nothingness. He was called ‘the noonday devil’ … The name of the state he tempts us to is called acedia, which is a form of despair when life itself is seen as hopeless drudgery, even if it is a necessary drudgery. This again is why the drug addict is our prophet. The drug addict is not ‘idle’—he works diligently, but his work is a slow downward spiral and an accepted and acted upon despair. Acedia also knows and even believes that man was made for great things, but does not have the hope or magnanimity to reach them. He hates that they are reachable and wishes he was called to less.1

Which I recognize as the truth. And yet another part of me snipes back: if God wants me so bad, why does he make things so damn hard? Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Savior.

The difference between this and despair? I guess I am still waiting for him to answer me, to say something. I keep coming back to him—angrier and unhappier every time, it seems, but again and again. It’s been said that the Church is the cross on which Christ is crucified; I am the nails. It must hurt him horribly, the way I act, or am, but he is the one who refuses the twelve legions of angels in favor of staying close to Gabriel. That thou doest, do quickly, he said to Judas. It doesn’t make rational sense; but poetically, nothing else is possible.

For some reason this feels like a really good way to start Lent. Certainly it’s better to be frank—I mean, it isn’t like God doesn’t know what you’re thinking, so you might as well actually talk to him about it. I don't know how to break out of the illusion, but I know that I am subject to an illusion: we have a place to start.

✠     ✠     ✠

1The Name of the Demon That Steals Rest, Makes You Scroll, And Inspires Overworking’ by Jason Craig at Those Catholic Men. Read this piece thanks to a friend, and it knocked a little sense into me—my original concept for this post was much more bitter and hopeless, if you can imagine.