Saturday, September 05, 2009

"The sole cause of man's unhappiness..."

I'm reading The Discernment of Spirits by Timothy Gallagher, OMV, for a class we're having at church. So far it's good and we have a good teacher for the class, too. The book is about the first fourteen rules of spiritual discernment that St. Ignatius wrote in the 1500's. (My church is the place to learn Ignatian spirituality. Don't be frightened by our sinister website.)

What caught my eye just now over morning tea and jellybeans was this part in the book, explaining that the first step of spiritual discernment is just to be aware of what's going on inside:

Much is also said of the impact of contemporary culture in diminishing interior awareness.... Electronic means of filling the quiet spaces continue to multiply.... A secularized worldview questions faith and the reality itself of an interior spiritual life.... While these contemporary factors undeniably increase the difficulty of reaching interior awareness, they themselves are nonetheless expressions and consequences of a deeper resistance to living "within," a resistance that lies at the heart of the entire struggle itself. Blaise Pascal [1623-1662] powerfully explores this deepest resistance in his striking description of diversion, wherein we find his classic affirmation: "I have often said that the sole cause of man's unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room." Diversion, as Pascal explains it, is essentially a flight from our own limitedness.


Boy, do I know what he means. I've wasted years simply being diverted, and I now think that kind of thing-- lots of daydreaming, lots of TV, lack of prayer, lots of useless hobbies, lots of internet (*cough*)-- is much more destructive than suspected because it eats away life. A priest told me, "We want to stay in reality because that's where God is." Pascal didn't mean we need to reject human striving and do nothing. He meant we need to reject useless distractions and fantasies and face ourselves as we are.

You know, just the ads I see over the freeway when I drive to church illustrate that ours is not a society conducive to facing ourselves as we are.

If I were a billionaire, it'd be fun to buy every inch of billboard space and fill it with stuff like Pascal's quote. :)

3 comments:

Lee Gilbert said...

When I was first learning Italian, I poked my nose into Avvenire and saw the following title for an article: The Culture of Vocation vs the Culture of Distraction.

It's the only thing I could understand, but it explains EVERYTHING...or almost everything.

For example, it largely explains the connection between the fact that we threw the television out when my daughter was 1 yr old, and today she is a Carmelite nun.

It explains the high suicide rate, the abortion holocaust, the divorce rate, the homosexualization of the culture etc. No one can hear the voice of God.

Rachel Gray said...

Thanks Lee, I always like your comments and the fact that you're so supportive of your daughter.

When I was young my parents really restricted TV even though I'm sure it would've been much easier to let us four kids veg out in front of it, and I'm so thankful for that.

You know, there aren't many churches that really teach people to hear the voice of God. I'm at a parish now where the priests urge us to do a holy hour every day, and what a difference!

Lee Gilbert said...

Couple of weeks ago I wrote to our pastor suggesting that he promote Family Evenings Together- a program which exists solely in my own head.

This would consist in a) families getting rid of the TV or strictly circumscribing TV use in the evening; b) reading 30 minutes or so of good secular literature, e.g the Chronicles of Narnia; c. reading lives of the saints for 30 minutes or so; c. doing 20 minutes of catechism together.

We did that from the time the kids were 4 and 6 respectively right up until about 11 and 13 yrs.

When David turned 13, I thought, "Here we go, the rebellious years." It never happened. I never saw a whisper of anything untoward in either one of them. No scenes, no tantrums, no back talk. It was incredible, really. What a peaceful, prayerful, joyful home we had.

I lived for those times together. I was so jealous of the warm summer evenings that took my children away. But winter, darkness, cold and rain were ever my friends and shepherded them into our house where I could choose an opportune moment to say, "Hey kids, do you want to do some reading ?!"

"Sure, Dad! Great!"

Your pastor's program sounds great. When they opened the beautiful eucharistic chapel in our parish back in Chicagoland ( we are in Portland, now) the assistant pastor took the trouble to explain to the people how to spend a holy hour. This is so crucial, because here in our parish now people faithfully come to the eucharistic chapel, but frequently sit reading books or magazines. Well, of course, there is no one way to spend a holy hour, but I think it would be really helpful if people were given a series of suggestions that included at least some time on their knees focussed quietly on Our Lord.

My disk fried a couple of months ago and I had forgotten the name of your site which I enjoy, but I saw it linked on another blog the other day so like a bad penny I have turned up again.

Rachel, you mentioned Ignatian spirituality in a recent post. I had urged my daughter to make an Ignatian retreat when she was still at odd ends at age 26, since these are geared to finding one's way in terms of state of life. She saw an ad for a Miles Christi retreat for women and the rest is history. I know they have retreats in CA from time to time. Miles Christi is an order from Buenos Aires with 7-9 priests based near Detroit. They are a young order based on Ignatian principles and probably very similar to the first Jesuits in learning and fervor. You can easily find them with Google, of course.

Young people, and let us not forget I was among them 45 yrs ago :), often go through a great deal of difficulty in finding their way, in discerning the will of God, their vocation. Yet, perhaps the answer is really very simple.

"Master, if it is you, bid me to come to you upon the water!"

Rachel, what is that but to pray for a vocation?

Which means that it's absolutely inbounds to pray for a Carmelite vocation, is it not? Or any other...

Before she left for the convent I asked Stephanie, "Stephanie, what could be better than to be a Carmelite nun?" I was so surprised by the fervor of her answer, "NOTHING!!!" And there is no indication she has changed her mind, since she made simple profession June 20th as St Lucia of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Well, this is a long response, but I doubt if there is anyone that comes here now but thee and me.

Just had a brain wave to put you on my prayer list, Rachel. Wait just a second while I think a note to myself. There you are :)