Monday, February 22, 2010

Avoiding God

If our condition were truly happy, we would not seek diversion from it in order to make ourselves happy . ~ Blaise Pascal

As I wrote earlier, I have longed to find something to share with you about this holy season of Lent and where I feel the Lord is leading me. Up until yesterday, however, I did not feel the Lord leading. I was clearly distracted by other things: a trip, my children's Lenten traditions, our Little Flowers meeting, ideas from an inspiring book, etc... Regretfully, I had not taken the time to clearly reflect on my own needs for Lent.

In fact, every time I thought about what personal improvements I wanted to focus on during Lent, I was overwhelmed by the choices, by the sheer volume of change I would like to see in myself. Reading this post and the following excerpt from The Easter Book by Father Weiser quoted in the section on Lent in my copy of Around the Year with the Trapp Family:

Public sinners approached their priests shortly before Lent to accuse themselves of their misdeeds and were presented by the priests on Ash Wednesday to the bishop of the place. Outside the cathedral, poor and noble alike stood barefoot, dressed in sackcloth, heads bowed in humble contrition. The bishop, assisted by his canons, assigned to each one particular acts of penance according to the nature and gravity of his crime. Whereupon they entered the church, the bishop leading one of them by the hand, the others following in single file, holding each other's hands. Before the altar, not only the penitents, but also the bishop and all his clergy recited the seven penitential psalms. [Psalms 6, 31, 37, 50, 101, 129, 142.] Then, as each sinner approached, the bishop imposed his hands on him, sprinkled him with holy water, threw the blessed ashes on his head, and invested him with the hair shirt. Finally he admonished ("with tears and sighs" as the regulation suggests): "Behold you are cast out from the sight of holy mother Church because of your sins and crimes, as Adam the first man was cast out of Paradise because of his transgression." After this ceremony the penitents were led out of the church and forbidden to re-enter until Holy Thursday (for the solemn rite of their reconciliation). Meanwhile they would spend Lent apart from their families in a monastery or some other place of voluntary confinement, where they occupied themselves with prayer, manual labor, and works of charity. Among other things they had to go barefoot all through Lent, were forbidden to converse with others, were made to sleep on the ground or on a bedding of straw, and were unable to bathe or cut their hair."Such was the public penance (in addition to the general Lenten fast) for "ordinary" cases of great sin and scandal....For especially shocking and heinous crimes a much longer term was imposed.

And so, these thoughts were on my mind in Mass yesterday when our associate pastor mentioned Blaise Pascal's writings on diversion or distraction. He made a very brief comment about how Pascal wrote that we fill our minds with diversions to avoid focusing on what is truly important...God. Thus began my rabbit trail.

I came home and Googled "Pascal distraction diversion." Interestingly, out of the first four results, two were different writings about iPods. Since I do not have one of those yet (my husband calls them Personal Isolation Devices but I'm planning for speakers), I kept clicking. I found a great deal of profound statements by this wise Roman Catholic philosopher (of course, he was influenced by Jansenism, so be careful as you read him) which I have saved to ponder more fully in the coming days (and of course, share with you how the Lord touches my heart through them).

The Holy Spirit, however, clearly wanted me to reflect on my own distractions and to find a way to focus more on God and let Him refine me. I have already seen amazing results in staying off of the computer until after lunch each day (the small sacrifice I decided would begin my Lenten observance). Our schoolwork is getting done, and my children are getting ready in the morning without fits. Taking away this one small distraction from my mornings helped me to focus on the children and simple things like starting a load of laundry and unloading the dishwasher.

Of course, I had to laugh when I realized that indeed my children are often a distraction to my prayer life, but since I have no plans to rid my days of them, I must look elsewhere. I need to create space in my days, something mentioned in the same homily and again towards the end of Mass in a beautiful explanation by our pastor of why the recessional in Lent is ideally done in complete sacred silence. We all know that "In the silence of the heart, God speaks," (Blessed Teresa of Calcuttta) and eliminating distractions can only help me to embrace my word for 2010.

What other distractions are in my days? What keeps me from being so inconsistent in my devotions, chores, and daily activities? How can I build in bubbles of peace? How can you? be continued.


Gwenevere said...

Although moments of silence and reflection are indeed healing and necessary, perhaps we would be better to learn how to devote our mind to God ways other than quiet reflection.

A prayer can be said in the middle of chaos and still heard so long as our heart is in the right place. It's easy to think of God when all is silent, but again, I don't believe that is the purpose of life. He wants us to be active. instead of looking at our distractions as a vice and an opportunity to forget God, perhaps we can look at them as an opportunity to find God, in an inconvenience place. He is everywhere.

Gwenevere said...

I think I said everything all wrong (but I can't see my comments to delete or repost)...what I meant to say was centered on the quote from Pascal

If our condition were truly happy, we would not seek diversion from it in order to make ourselves happy . ~ Blaise Pascal

Today I disagree with that quote. Perhaps we are seeking diversion, because we have found God in diverse places and are excited to find more new places He may be.

But then maybe I do agree...maybe we are not happy where we are and need to go seeking other places in order to find that happiness. Just because we are seeking we are not abandoning.

Next time...I'll collect my thoughts a little better before I post. :)

antonina31 said...

Gwen, I moderate comments here to avoid spam, so I went ahead and posted your second comment and held your first. If you would like me to publish the first, just let me know.

Thanks for your insight! Since the quote is out of context, I can see exactly what you mean. Pascal, in what little I have read, seems to use the word diversion to mean distractions that take us away from eternal things. I plan to provide more quotes soon that elaborate on this line of thought.

I interpreted this particular quote to mean that we continually seek happiness in places/things other than God. I can see now that was a very simplistic interpretation, and one could take his words in a number of different directions. The Holy Spirit often has different meanings for different people, knowing intimately what we need to hear at a given time in our unique journeys.