Thursday, July 07, 2011

Maybe Less Discipline is Good Discipline

Oh, dear, I have really fallen off the disciplinary wagon.

I attempted to write something last week for the Feast of Saints Peter & Paul, one of my favorites, but it was rambling and obvious, so it has been condemned to the purgatory of "drafts" and will no doubt remain there.

I might have had something to say yesterday commemorating the death of Thomas More, who was executed by Henry VIII for exercising his conscience and refusing to support the political separation of the Church of England from Rome. He is venerated as a martyr by the Roman church on June 22 (unclear why) and by the Church of England on July 6, the anniversary of his execution. Though the Episcopal Church in the United States is busily adding to the calendar what seems to be hundreds of people small and great who in some noteworthy way or other played a role in church history, Sir Thomas has yet to be nominated, an omission I find very strange in the context of new additions such as John Calvin. So although there is no official Episcopalian observance for Thomas More, I write him into the calendar myself and keep the day by watching the classic film A Man for All Seasons. (One week earlier I kept Saints Peter & Paul by watching the extraordinary Quo Vadis, which is campy and overwrought but magnificent). (For the record, I also write in my own observances for Gandhi and the Buddha, whom I am certain were saints who in fact preached the Gospel, even if not in the name of Christ.)

In general, my "daily office" discipline has been pretty weak. I think it's less about the health of my faith life than it is a symptom or symbol of my general state lately: I'm tired. I've worked incredibly hard the last few months both professionally and on volunteer projects, and I am needing a break from responsibility and commitments, more flexibility, more fun and more me-centered time.

For these two weeks in July, I have even set aside the BCP completely as there are no feasts in the calendar to observe. Instead, I have two Franciscan prayer books, one focusing on St Clare and another on Francis himself, which each contain a week's worth of morning and evening prayer liturgies. They are shorter and simpler than what I normally do, but I think that's a good boundary to stretch, as well. I use the readings provided therein, which are chosen for thematic relevance, rather than keeping the lectionary.

Even though the simplified liturgy means I can get through the office in 10 or 15 minutes, rather then 30-45, I'm still finding the structure burdensome, though I trust it is beneficial. My mind seems permanently elsewhere. I am reading, but not comprehending, looking, but not seeing.

This isn't to say that I'm not thinking about God these days. I am, and quite frequently. I am feeling rather unsettled -- or, perhaps, too settled -- and it reminds me of how I was feeling about five years ago back in New York when I had this great sense that what I was doing wasn't working and that a big change was needed. That change ended up being leaving everything behind in New York and starting over from scratch with a new life, new friends, new job and new community in Portland.

In hindsight, the change was absolutely the right one, for many reasons. I do truly feel that I had opened myself up to discernment, to listening to that 'still, small voice,' and was called back to Portland at an important time. Now I feel restless. I don't know whether this is leading me on to yet another city and another life, or whether it's change on a less dramatic scale. I think frequently about moving to another part of town, but the pro/con analysis always keeps me where I am. (For now.)

The other thing that is going on seems to be that I am possibly emerging from many years of emotional and romantic isolation. The Christian ethos I have been raised with trains me to seek one partner with which to make a committed relationship and to be abstinent otherwise, and so, in the absence of a partner all these long years, I have been...lonely, shall we say. But in my meditations in recent months (especially in Lent) I have had a great deal of focus on sex and sensuality and relationship, and as I enter tentatively back into the "dating world," part of me remains unclear whether I even want a relationship. I am sensing that the church's historic sexophobia is wrong and damaging, and yet also feel certain that there is a higher standard to which Christians are called for their intimate behavior.

The Bible doesn't anywhere condemn sex, or sexual pleasure, or sex for the sake of pleasure. That thinking is a product of the middle ages, a legacy of St Augustine's over-compensation for his own admitted debauchery and a mistaken assumption that "original sin" has something to do with sex. This got codified in Aquinas' ideas about natural law, and got us to the persisting religious argument that sex is for procreation, and only within the bonds of male/female Christian marriage; any sex that is not procreative in intent or capacity is sinful, and even procreative sex is understood to be sinful if the participants enjoy themselves. This cannot be what God intended.

Obviously this is the subject for a post of its own...many posts, probably. I concede the Bible repeatedly condemns fornication and adultery, but I think those are specific abuses of sexual behavior, not sex in general that is being condemned. Somehow I was raised with a very traditional, sex-negative religious outlook, and I think that has kept me emotionally and spiritually retarded in many ways. I have a sense that God is calling me to a healthier physical life. We'll have to see.

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