Sunday, January 31, 2016

Recovering at My Age

This past week or so has been a rough one.  About a week and a half ago, I came down with something.  It was either the flu or food poisoning.  Not sure which.  But the bottom line is that it took well over a wee to fully recover.  There were a couple of days that I crashed early and tried to sleep it off.  There were some days where I was shivering uncontrollably.  And I spent a lot of time running to rest room.  But it wasn't the illness itself I wanted to write about.

It's how I handled it.  I will give full credit to my wife.  She took care of my admirably well.  She got me water or Advil or whatever I needed when I was down hard.  She encouraged me to get rest.  One day I was incredibly nauseous and she made me Jell-O (I cannot express how touched I was when I found out she made me Jell-O).  She did all the things a loving and caring wife would do for her husband.

The problem (of course) was me.  Normally, when I get sick, I sleep it off and feel well enough the next day that I can function well after that.  After about two days, I'm pretty much normal.  My usual methodology is to pound illness into submission by stubbornly staying with my routine: eating normal, regular meals, getting up at the same time, working out, doing homework, etc.  In other words, what I always do.  I tough things out because I don't have time to be sick.  And, frankly, I seldom get sick.

Well, by the end my wife gently reminded me (while giving me the Wife Look), that perhaps I should slow down and actually, you know, REST and take it easy.  Maybe call in sick and take a day off from work.  Because, like it or not, I will be 50 this year and I ain't getting any younger.  Perhaps what working in the past isn't going to work so well in the future.

Dammit, I have when she's right.  Which is pretty much almost all of the time.  It sucks to realize that while I'm in good shape and very healthy for a guy my age, I'm not as young as I used to be.  And while I'm not falling apart, perhaps I need to listen a little more to what my body is telling me.  Boy that's a kick in the ass.  In my brain, I'm still should be in my 20's.  But the rest of me is WAY past that.

I've fully recovered from my illness and am getting back into my routine.  But after just one workout I can tell that it's going to take some time to get back to where I was just a week ago.  I may need to slow down just a little, but I want to fight it kicking and screaming.  I also absolutely hated having to leave class early on Wednesday for not feeling well.  I'm really enjoying the diaconate program right now and was looking forward to the topic we were going to discuss.  I guess I'll just need to make sure I take care of myself well so I don't take so long to recover next time.  And, of course, I've got my wife to remind me to do just that.  And I'll probably listen to her, if for nothing else I know she has my best interests at heart.  Which is one of the many reasons why I love her.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Reflections on Faith

The topics for this week's Orientation to Theological Studies course (the course I'm taking this semester in the diaconate program) were about faith and reason.  I found this to be a really interesting topic on a lot of levels.  There were so many notes I made about the nature of faith.  And I've always found the balance of faith and reason to be interesting given my background in science.  For those of you that are not aware, although my current career is in information technology, my bachelor's degree is in Chemistry.  While research wasn't my forte, I get the quest of science to understand the world around us.

Where to begin?  I think one of the most profound things I took away from the weeks' reading and discussion was that faith is a gift from God.  You would think that faith was something that sprang from the human spirit.  But in actuality it is a gift.  The other interesting thing I read is that a gift is not really a gift unless it is 1) freely given, and 2) received by the person its given to.  Furthermore, a gift becomes a true gift when the recipient opens their heart and accepts it.  The act of giving something to another makes it a gift on your part.  But the giving process is not complete until it is accepted by the recipient.  How many of us have received a gift from someone and cringed because the didn't want it?  It's not a true gift then, is it?

Faith is also something that you receive from someone else.  God provides the gift, but it usually comes through another person.  For example, in my case it was my wife's invitation to me to join her in going to Mass that planted the seeds of my faith.  Had it not been for her, I probably would not be where I am today.  In turn, it is our responsibility to pass this gift on to others.  How do we pass on this faith?  Any way we can.  Ellen and I certainly tried to pass this faith on to our children.  But I also hope that by my words and actions, someone my either come to know God or know Him more deeply from the example I provide.

That's certainly something I think about as I begin the path to becoming a deacon.  I've never believed in forcing my faith on anyone.  I truly believe that everyone is trying to find God in their own way.  God made us as spiritual beings with a natural desire to know Him.  None of us can understand God in His entirety, but we understand Him in whatever way we can.

The other big theme we've been discussing is that "faith seeks understanding".  If you have faith in something, you want to understand it better so you don't think your faith is misplaced.  In the case of faith in God, this seeking understanding leads to a deeper faith which leads to deeper understanding and so on.  It's an amazing circle that allows your faith and understanding to deepen over time.

This is why faith and reason are not mutually exclusive.  So many people think that you can't be a rational person and still have faith.  I find just the opposite.  While I was in college, I learned about so many scientific principles that seemed to almost be "magic".  My favorite example is quantum mechanical tunneling.  It is the phenomenon where a particle breaks through a barrier that our current science says it should not be able to.  Like magic, we observe the particle where our reason tells us it can't be.  But, you may say, that just means our math and equations just cannot describe this phenomenon correctly.  My answer is that this is God.  Not in the sense that God is the one creating this observed phenomenon, but that it was God that created a universe so amazing that the deeper we go in understanding it, the more mysterious it becomes.  How could a universe so complicated be the work of random chance?  I just don't believe it.  To me, science is just more rational evidence of the existence of God.

Which is why faith and reason are not mutually exclusive but complementary.  There are some Christians that seem to think you must ignore science in order to believe in God and the Bible.  I'm thankful Catholicism does not teach this.  The Bible is not science.  It's historical but not in the classic text book, fact checking sense.  Reliance on God does not mean being blindly obedient to what we're taught about the faith.

Probably the most interesting thing I read was that doubt is actually a very healthy think in respect to faith.  It is ok to doubts about what you believe.  It should cause you to look into your faith more deeply and learn more to ease your doubts.  Having a healthy questioning attitude is very human.  Even people we revere like Mother Theresa had doubts about her faith.  The best thing I read is that faith without doubt is not stronger, it is merely more ideological.  And isn't that what we see in our world today?  Religions teaching their followers that they must not doubt what they are told but believe without questioning.  And where does that lead us?  Ideologies that are perversions of faith and justify every sort of evil act in the name of that faith.  In the final analysis, doubt is good.  Questioning and seeking understanding is good.  Faith and reason can coexist.

At the risk of being very cheesy, I will quote Rush, from the classic song Hemispheres:

"Let the truth of love be lighted, let the love of truth shine clear, sensibility, armed with sense and liberty, with the heart and mind united in a single, perfect sphere."

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Dusting the Furniture and Clearing the Cobwebs

So it's been quite some time since any new content has been entered into this blog.  According to the last thing I posted, I've had the shudders closed on this place for over 3 years.  That's quite a bit of dust to clear out.  However, this time I'm hoping to actually have a purpose for this blog as opposed to it's previous usage as just a place for me to talk about stuff and connect with my friends.  Because, let's face it, blogging as social media is pretty much dead.  But enough with the prelude.

This week a lot has happened.  More on that in a minute.  But it occurs to me that it might be a good idea for me to start reflecting on my week and placing my thoughts somewhere.  Since I've got something already set up, why not use it?  Even if no one reads it, I think the exercise is worth it.  I'm beginning a journey on what could be a new ministry.  As that ministry develops, I'm open to how social media might be used in the service of that ministry.  So perhaps what I begin here will evolve into what that is.  We shall see.  So, without further ado:

This week has been quite interesting.  First and foremost, I attended my first formal class on the path to becoming a Roman Catholic deacon.  This is a four and a half year discernment to not only educate myself, but also to verify if this call is truly where God is leading me to go.  Many have asked me the question on why I want to be a deacon.  My answer has been consistent.  I never wanted to be one.  Honestly, I'd never seriously considered it until the day last February when I came home and told Ellen "I think I'm going to go to the deacon information meeting tonight.  Want to go as well?"  I had the feeling I was being called to some greater ministry and the Holy Spirit smacked me in the head.  And off I go.

This first class is an introduction to theology.  One of the many things that struck me (and that resonates with my week) is that the arts (literature, music, movies, art, etc), even if they are secular works, can teach us theological lessons.  In other words, you can find God in the arts, even if God is not the subject of the work.

This ties into two other major news items of the week: the deaths of David Bowie and Alan Rickman.  I'll be honest, David Bowie's death had more of an impact on me than Alan Rickman's.  It's probably because I'm more in tune with the impact of music on my life and spirituality than movies.  However, I'm a fan of Alan Rickman's work and think he was brilliant in a great many films.  However, I think what got to me more than the impact on myself was the impact on others I know.

These two people touched so many lives.  And it got me thinking of how true artists reflect the nature of God.  Another blogger talked about how the deaths of these two artists affected her.  The thing that really got me was how truly devastated she was by the death of two people she had never met.  My first instinct was to reach out and try to comfort her.  Here's what I responded:

"I understand what you mean that the loss of people like Bowie and Alan Rickman can have such a personal impact on us. They were artists. And true artists are important to us as human beings. Their work transcends the ordinary and helps us to glimpse the Divine. They pick us up when we’re down, and they lift us higher when we’re joyful. The experiences in our lives are more meaningful and powerful to us because their work becomes personal to us. It’s difficult to find the words that truly express the impact these artists have on us. That’s why the loss of these artists and heroes is so tragic and devastating even though their work will live on. It’s the realization that what we have is all there is and we will no longer share new moments."

She thought that was beautifully put and I'm glad that I was able to express my self correctly.  And reflecting on the loss people feel and being able to (hopefully) comfort someone even just a little helps me to reflect on the role of ministry.  I've always been drawn to interacting with people.  It's part of who I am to collaborate with and learn from others.  Hopefully part of whatever ministry I eventually undertake will bring me into contact with others and allow God to lift them up through me.  Not in a self important way, but the way Jesus did it.  Modelling the love of God through the loving of others.

May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you.
May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace
(Numbers 6:24-26)