Not Doing What You Love

I am not doing what I love.

I don’t really know what that means. I have many loves.

The most, the ultimate, the WHAT I AM MEANT TO DO (kanyecaps for epicness) still evades me.

Or at least, the feeling of fulfillment does. Reading an NYT op-ed today really got me thinking – not that just not knowing is acceptable, but that doing things we do not love is really important.

Now I’m not talking self-flagellation for flagellation’s sake, but rather work that emanates from necessity, from duty, from responsibility.

Slinging lattes and raising money for syringa vulgaris is certainly not anything I ever pictured myself doing at 29. However,

“Our desires should not be the ultimate arbiters of vocation. Sometimes we should do what we hate, or what most needs doing, and do it as best we can.” (not that an espresso is what most needs doing…)

Even as I move toward beginning my PhD this fall, I am dogged by a sense of questioning – of academic self indulgence, of vocational self indulgence (read: privilege), of public service, of duty.

A re-run of TAL this week also piqued this part of my soul. In Act III, a woman who has adopted Paris as her home speaks about the completely refreshing way of life in France. That even as a corporate lawyer her work hours are expected to form a part of life, not its entirety.

That seeking pleasure through life – food, wine, loved ones – slows the pace to one where one can appreciate it, and find fulfillment through those outlets. (that’s just so, so French).

And perhaps that’s the ultimate question: how does one balance society’s needs with our talents, our duties and our desires?

lilacs and compost

***

May 19, 2014: Hiatus Break. I’m still grappling around what I’m doing here on the blog, but I will say this month has been bonkers. I think I’m going to start posting more when something hits me (hopefully not literally) and I have the time. Who knows – best laid plans right? 

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Downward Mobility

IMG_1542“I invite you to discover your vocation in downward mobility.  It’s a scary request…

The world is obsessed with wealth and security and upward mobility and prestige.

But let us teach solidarity, walking with the victims, serving and loving.

I offer this for you to consider – downward mobility.

And I would say in this enterprise there is a great deal of hope.

Have the courage to lose control.

Have the courage to feel useless.

Have the courage to listen.

Have the courage to receive.

Have the courage to let your heart be broken.

Have the courage to feel.

Have the courage to fall in love.

Have the courage to get ruined for life.

Have the courage to make a friend.”

~ Fr. Dean Brackley, SJ

***

The Art of the Everyday – March 13: Meditation of the week, something to chew on… 

This I Believe

There are beautiful hearts in the world.

Hearts desiring deeply, caring broadly, and loving with wild abandon.

I believe that these hearts beat together when a hug comes when most unexpected, but most needed. When the grinding triviality of days is broken with a touch, a smile, a song.

When your pulse is in your throat as you run together toward the ocean, not caring how your body looks, but how alive it feels.

When you feel you might burst as you crest the final rise, and then forget how you ever found it hard, embraced by pine-covered peaks and rocky slides.

There are beautiful hearts in the world.

Hearts struggling, resigning quietly, breaking open.

I believe that these hearts beat together when we know we cannot understand, but we can listen. When the only thing to hear is your breath with mine, and the only thing comprehensible about life is that it continues.

There are beautiful hearts in the world.

Hearts that are your own, that you wouldn’t recognize now. Hearts that feel, that grow, that change, that fail.

Hearts that love anyway.

There are beautiful hearts in the world.

***

The Art of the Everyday – February 17: This I Believe, inspired by my wicked smaht, gorgeous, co-fighter for love and justice, Courtney. Visit her here, she’s moving and shaking, people.

Acceptance

Isn’t it what we all crave?

Maybe there’s someone out there, a guru type, that can really just zen it all out, but that ain’t me y’all.

That’s why this moment is so surreal. (A feeling that is also assisted by the amount of Sudafed pumping through my system).

After all the work, the worry, the stress, the delays, the questions, I just might have the beginning of a resolution. A hint at the answer of how I want to mold my life – how I want to move within this world and leave it better than I found it.

Getting home from Jamaica this week, I opened my email and my jaw dropped: I got in.

While it’s not 100% yet, as I’m still waiting on other schools, the Boston College Department of Theology has accepted and funded me for their PhD in Theological Ethics program starting Fall 2014.

I still have a little over a month to discern, which I’m going to take full advantage of, and will most likely share some of here.

But for now, I’m just happy and dreaming. I’ve always thought I could be an Eagle.

***

The Art of the Everyday – February 12: PhD Acceptance Day! 

Week of Happy: Pope Day!

I confess. I may be Pope-obsessed.

Just look at his FACE:

pope 1And his SELFIE:

pope selfie

 

And THIS KID:

pope_francis_boy_afp

And being generally EPIC:

francis-slum-feet_2510124b

 

Specifically with this week away with my partner, an atheist, I am thankful that a leader (THE leader) in my Church gets it – that good is good.

I so often get asked “how do you do it?!?!” as if being with my partner has to be some monumental struggle. I can’t imagine being with anyone else, and am so thankful he is with me. The conversations we have are challenging, encouraging, and rewarding. They are anything but easy.

If I wanted easy, I wouldn’t have chosen to be Catholic. Or to go into social work. Or the academy. Or move to rural Maine.

Come to think of it, I hate easy.

“They complain,” the Pope said in his homily, because they say, “If he is not one of us, he cannot do good. If he is not of our party, he cannot do good.” And Jesus corrects them: “Do not hinder him, he says, let him do good.” The disciples, Pope Francis explains, “were a little intolerant,” closed off by the idea of ​​possessing the truth, convinced that “those who do not have the truth, cannot do good.” “This was wrong . . . Jesus broadens the horizon.” Pope Francis said, “The root of this possibility of doing good – that we all have – is in creation” ~ Il Papa Francis

***

The Art of the Everyday – February 4: Week of Happy – Enjoy this series of simple (and some not so simple) things that make me happy while I’m on vacation!

 

Love in Action

“For Francis, it seems, the timidity of tightly held borders, the safe-harbor of accepted opinion and doctrinal purity risks a greater sin—a greater loss to the Church—than the dangerous paths of love and welcome….” – John D. Whitney, SJ

seattle

I love it when people make a mess.

Okay, not in my office or my house, but in what we perceive as ‘normal’ or ‘okay.’ Especially when they make a mess for love – faithful, true, healing love.

An amazing group of high schoolers in Seattle is doing just that. After the firing of their gay vice principal for marrying his partner, the kids decided to do something. Their conscience led, and they followed.

Beyond my personal beliefs of equality and justice, these students are also being truly Catholic – even though many may not be of the faith themselves. I am lucky to have been taught by Jesuits, and lay Catholics, that to truly be a part of the Church is to ask questions of it.

To have ever-growing, challenging, frustrating, fulfilling conversation. A Jesuit from Seattle University offered this reflection about such action’s resonance with the roots of the Christian Church:

“What is most amazing about this moment in the [early] Church is how the community comes to decide, together, what is to be done. There is debate and disruption, but it is not seen as division; rather, it is the way the Holy Spirit is working within the community. Further, this debate is grounded on human experience, and not on tradition or on the power of office. “

And as long as they keep stepping forward, keep speaking out, they are seeking the same light we all reach toward – trying to understand Augustine’s words:

“It is not physical beauty nor temporal glory nor the brightness of light dear to earthly eyes, nor the sweet melodies of all kinds of songs, nor the gentle odor of flowers, and ointments and perfumes, nor manna or honey, nor limbs welcoming the embraces of the flesh; it is not these I love when I love my God.

Yet there is a light I love, and a food, and a kind of embrace when I love my God — a light, voice, odor, food, embrace of my innerness, where my soul is floodlit by light which space cannot contain, where there is sound that time cannot seize, where there is a perfume which no breeze disperses, where there is a taste for food no amount of eating can lessen, and where there is a bond of union that no satiety can part.

That is what I love when I love my God.”

***

The Art of the Everyday – January 30: Throwback Thursday to a 2013 theme, Manresa, wherein I discern in the Ignatian sense.

Cosmic Muffin

I am bad at prayer. If that’s even a thing.

Raised secular by good critics of organized religion, prayer inherently feels weird, possibly fake, and at times like a petulant child.

As my friend Burt reminded me today, prayer was something “they” did.

Throughout my spiritual journey I’ve avoided looking too deeply into why many of those feelings arise within me. I have an inkling that a huge part of my struggle is being vulnerable and open to those deep dark icky spots we all have – not my strong suit.

9781594631290_custom-cb4cb43b6689f4aec7878a3cbf3fb106f54a51dc-s6-c30That’s one of the reasons while reading Anne Lamott, who I love, I feel such peace. All hail the “Cosmic Muffin.”

Whether you “officially” pray or not, in Help Thanks Wow Lamott asks us in this short meditative book to consider that we all seek connection, especially to something bigger than ourselves. She calls the divine Phil, sometimes God, and describes wholeheartedly and with humor the need most people feel to reach out in times of need, gratitude or awe.

Lamott sees prayer as a way to ferry across “…the three most terrible truths of our existence: that we are so ruined, and so loved, and in charge of so little.”

Eventually, it all comes down to story – something I can relate to and love – that we use our words as strength, as compassion, as struggle:

“…if you gently help yourself back to the present moment, you see how life keeps stumbling along and how you may actually find your way through another ordinary or impossible day. Details are being revealed, and they will take you out of yourself, which is heaven, and you will have a story to tell, which is salvation that again adn again saves us, the way Jesus saves some people, or the way sobriety does. Stories to tell or hear – either way, it’s medicine. The Word.”

These prayers seek a way out of mystery and toward freedom. Freedom in a peace that knows that we cannot be certain. Lamott perfectly explains feelings I have most often in nature, and in re-discovering and trying to grow my awe-response to the world I inhabit:

“You begin to feel friendship with your flowering pear tree, an interspecies oneness with it, although we usually keep these thoughts to ourselves, lest they be used against us at the commitment hearings. In fact, you are able to use the word ‘wonder’ again, even feel it, without despair that the New York literati or your atheist friends will find out and send you into exile.

She also inspires me to keep slogging along, and remember that we’re here to live, to touch, to love and to be floored by things – but we have to let ourselves.

“If you say, ‘Well, that’s pretty much what I thought I’d see,’ you are in trouble. At that point, you have to ask yourself why you are even here…When nothing new can get in, that’s death. When oxygen can’t find a way in, you die. But new is scary, and new can be disappointing, and confusing – we had this ll figured out, and now we don’t. New is life.”

And the Church says, Amen.

“…Amen – It is us, lifting up our hope, hate, gratitude, fear, and shame, saying, Boy, do we hope we are right about this God stuff.”

***

The Art of the Everyday, January 24 – A revisit to a 2013 theme, Manresa.

Walking the Walk

I didn’t get put in a chokehold, but I did get called fat pretty much every day.

They don’t tell you that part, even when you sign up to be “ruined for life” as the Jesuit Volunteer Corps motto states.

Frankly, I hope they pick up Pope Francis’ words I read this week in The Atlantic: to serve the poor you will be “bruised, hurting and dirty.”

I couldn’t think of three better words to describe my year in JVC New Orleans. To be fair, I would add: “music, free food, cheap booze.” It wasn’t all bad. I was definitely still dirty, though.

But it was hard.

One of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I felt lonely, isolated in a new community, a new region of the country, ravaged by natural disasters and man-made catastrophes that have lasted generations. I had literally zero frame of reference for the experiences the city had been through, its complex history, or its amazing people.

IMG_0617

Upper 9th Ward, August 2007

The type of sustained commitment, day in and out, was at times achingly difficult. It is not just a job, but a lifestyle, a shockingly revolutionary one in the face of what our culture tells us is ‘appropriate.’

“JVC holds to the same belief that true service takes risks and works directly with the impoverished.” It was a risk, but not without reward.

Although far from perfect, JVC taught me to see people. To recognize, as Andrew says in the article, that

Somewhere along the way, those that he served stopped being “the homeless,” the conceptual, faceless mass that most Americans see when looking at society’s most disadvantaged. The homeless had become people, individuals whose names he knew and life stories he had learned.

We may not prefer to admit it, but Poor is hard to look at. Homeless is hard to look at. Addicted is hard to look at. Deformed is hard to look at. Deeply Depressed is hard to look at.

What JVC, and now Pope Francis,“is saying is not new, this is the Catholic Church’s teaching. He’s doing what Jesuits always do. Jesuits get gritty with it.”

To get gritty, to (somewhat) quietly do the work of living into the ideals of service and humility, to allow yourself to be changed by those people so often cast off. That is what I was taught.

And what I continue to learn.

IMG_0767***

The Atlantic article and the Daily Prompt got me thinking…random kindness is good, but not at the cost of intentionality.

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It’s the motha-f*ckn G-O-D

Theology…you really like God n’ stuff?

This one time, at Bible camp…

So I’m really spiritual, you know? Just not religious.

Oh the glory of trying to tell a stranger what you do for a living as an aspiring theologian. Or that you aren’t going to judge/damn/attempt to convert them no matter how they respond (exception: complete assholery).

Or that like any normal human adult, you put your pants on one leg at a time, and had red wine and corn puffs for dinner last night.

A couple articles this past week (along with my continuing application odyssey) prompted me to rethink (again) what the hell I’m doing.

I’ve never been a woman of singular interests – from the gymnastics/ballet/science club/ cheerleading/concert choir/musical theater of my youth to my social work/barista/doggie volunteer/reader of all/travel nut present, I just don’t like to be pinned down.

It’s one of the reasons discernment in the big sense is such a challenge for me. I definitely fall too quickly into the “if I do this thing then that is the thing, I am that, this is what I do. Period. Does this mean I’ll never do all the things?!?! I’m supposed to do all the things!” trap.

Blame it on my type-A nature, or 90s child “they said I could be anything” multiple aspirations, but this particular personality aspect is beginning to frustrate me.

That’s one of the reasons I was somewhat heartened to read Tara Isabella Burton’s article in The Atlantic: “theology is the closest thing we have at the moment to the kind of general study of all aspects of human culture that was once very common, but is now quite rare.”

Her words were a nice reminder of one of the reasons I find theology so fascinating – an in-depth, dedicated quest for meaning. Meaning that can have multiple definitions of equal import, a complexity that is often lost in the modern academy.

Yet, her article overall made me think of her as a “theology apologist.”

I bristled at this because I’m guilty as well. In our science-oriented society it’s just so much easier to explain the whole enterprise in social science terms – that studying belief systems will help us better understand a certain event/person/group and then have this positive impact on the world and one of its particular issues.

While I have no problem with this, and in large part my research works on these types of questions, that’s not all studying theology is about.

In a post-modern world, theology makes truth claims.

Big ones.

God ones.

The ones you’re never supposed to mention at the dinner table.

And you know what? I love that. I need that. I think we all do.

As much as hard science and MTV and the Real Housewives can explain our world, how often do we force ourselves to sit with our lived reality, our experiences, our feelings, and come out the other side with something that helps it make sense?

Damn, I like that challenge.

This is not just about my particular faith, which is continually hard-won and questioned near-daily, but about our ability as individuals, groups, communities and society at large to make meaning.

Meaning does not have to come in the form of religion or a belief system, but it often does.

This is not because it’s an easy way out, or a comforting fairy tale.

It’s because we all know there is a truth. In moments that we can’t understand, or explain. When we just know that our dead friends are okay. When we kiss our person. When we breathe deep in the autumn night air, looking at the stars.

Theology sits with these questions; with they mystery of it all, and tries to say something about it.

***

I’m sure it’s that deep quest Dre and Snoop were talking about – fuzzy bikini not included.

Perspective

This past week I got sick.

The sickest I’ve been in a good long while. Hello, gross snot-head-and-trust-me-you-don’t-want-to-know-the-rest.

It offered a much needed slap in the mucus-creator about my perspective as of late.

Doing academic work of any kind can force you to question your place on this planet, but I find PhD applications to be their own special slice of hell.

“Tell us in 500 words how you will successfully complete 6 years of work, exactly what you will research like a superhuman research-gnome, and how it will CHANGE THE MOTHER F*CK’N WORLD”

Okay…

But for serious, also decide where you want to live/force your SO to relocate to for the foreseeable future, debate the public transit/microbrewery/airport/weather with yourself, and have a breakdown about how this will impact your decision to start thinking about maybe adopting a pet.

Eventually this just forces system failure.

As Allie Brosh (aka Hyperbole and a Half) once summed up adulthood: “I did three things yesterday! Now I’m supposed to keep doing things? It’s like the things never end!”

In my Nyquil-riddled state, I read The Night Guestwhich bends and twists in the realm of magical realism and psychological thriller (extra fun dreams on the ‘quil). It forces the reader to question what is real, what is of value, and how we can tell the difference.

The headstrong caregiver, Frida, reminded me of my more stubborn aspects: “But this was Frida’s way: it was impossible to surprise her. She would rather starve then be caught off guard; she had said so one more than one occasion.”

I strive to be more lithe and flexible with life’s surprises, but I understood all too clearly the need to categorize, solve, and tick off each aspect of my life and future.

I also indulged my YouTube addiction and caught up on some videos. I often enjoy Vlogbrothers videos, and this one seemed to speak directly to me: “You can’t know what an experience will mean to future you until you are future you.

On the mend after a few days in bed, I spoke to my randomly-selected-freshman-year-roommate-turned-good-friend who said these words to me: “You just have to do the now, and worry about the rest later. Much later.”

Alright universe, I get it.