Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity

O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal; grant this, O heavenly Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Raw Tact, Part VIII: The Lavender Menace

To say that homophobia is a touchy subject among Catholics is a little like saying that Hurricance Katrina got New Orleans quite unusually wet. Many Catholics, including the leadership of Courage, imply or even state categorically that there is no such thing as homophobia: the idea is dismissed as a campaign to silence the Church's voice in the public square.

I must say from the start that I have a difficult time maintaining objectivity about this, and especially about Courage. I've never been to a meeting, or had more than the most cursory interactions with any members; but its language on its website is so repugnant and hurtful that I can barely contain my conflicting desires to yell at my computer screen or else burst into tears. This is admittedly not a very good place from which to approach anything objectively. But I don't think this series can do without discussing the subject, and so I'm going to try my level best to be as fair-minded and honest as I can. If I fail in that object, I apologize in advance.

I'm sure he's yelling a heartfelt "Mea maxima culpa" at the 
blog commenter who finally showed him the error of his ways.

Now, I will say first that the claim that homophobia doesn't exist is a true one, in exactly one sense: the DSM-IV, the standard diagnostic manual used by mental health professionals, doesn't list it. And I will say further that plenty of things are called homophobic by people in the LGBT movement that are, quite simply, moral or philosophical opposition to a particular political idea or set of ideas, and aren't based on hatred or irrationality. I will add that Romaphobia is as real, and as pervasive, as homophobia -- I've experienced more bigotry about my religion than about my sexuality, and I've heard people who wouldn't dream of doing something as relatively harmless as making a tasteless gay joke, say in so many words that they hate Catholics. The double standard of American culture here is an active and unhappy reality, not just Catholic paranoia.

But I am talking predominantly (so I gather) to a Christian audience, and we cannot repent of other people's sins. For that matter, when it comes to being treated with flagrant injustice by the World, the majority of the teaching and examples we are given in the New Testament move us toward a posture of acceptance of such suffering, grateful that we are being conformed to Christ by it. What we can repent of, and should be more concerned with, is our own sins and flaws, both as individuals and as a body, and it is to these that I now turn.

The word homophobia in itself is not, in my opinion, very significant. It's true that the DSM-IV doesn't list it, but so what? It's a colloquial coinage, and besides, insofar as a properly psychological phobia is an irrational, disproportionate fear of something,* there can in principle be such a fear of homosexuality, simply because there can in principle be a phobia of anything. I doubt that the listing in the DSM-IV was meant to be absolutely exhaustive in any case. The point is, such irrational fear and hatred of homosexuality does exist (just ask a queer-identified person from Russia or Uganda or Iran), and the assertion that homophobia is just a conspiracy to silence Christians ignores that grave fact.

This would be bad enough by itself. What complicates it yet further is that, in a culture in which queer issues are among the most discussed ideas of the day, the claim that there is no such thing as homophobia (warning: the linked article contains language which may trigger those who have experienced anti-gay traumas) does not even come across just as petty pedantry: it comes across as an assertion that no kind of vile treatment of gays is actually wrong. When groups like Courage proceed to spend a vast tract of their time** insisting that certain kinds of discrimination are acceptable, that those who even use such terms as "gay" or "lesbian" are doing so in order to introduce politically motivated heresy into the Church, and that all homosexual behavior is predatory and self-marginalizing, it tends to leave an outside observer (one who hasn't closed the browser in disgust) wondering what they would consider an unjust way to treat queer-identified people.

Refusing us tickets to "Wicked"?

Courage spends several paragraphs of multiple articles on ambiguous and disingenuous language. I can't help but feel that it is a bit hypocritical to be (as it seems to be) unwilling, or unable, to realize what other people mean in what they say, and the dissonance between normal Catholic terminology and normal normal terminology.

It is, I suspect, tempting to reply with something along the lines of, "Christians shouldn't have to change our terminology! We're right!"

First of all, no, you're not right. Christianity is right. And you are a Christian. But you are not Christianity. You are a sinner; that's how you got in in the first place.***

Second, yes, Christianity -- and, I would say further, the Catholic Church specifically -- is right. But so what? Being right does nobody any good when it's accompanied by being too stubborn to communicate clearly, and defining your terms is only one side of clear communication; the other side is listening to how the other side defines their terms. Otherwise, all the being right in the world will amount to jack shit when it comes to mutual comprehension. What's more, being right doesn't mean the other side has nothing to offer you: you may well be talking past each other, or have an incomplete picture that they can help you fill out, if you're humble enough to listen. This is nothing new. Learning to speak a new language is one of the chief duties of any apostolate: or, to put it another way, you don't go to China and start preaching in English, and you especially don't then get angry with the Chinese for not speaking English.****

Third, the brute fact is that Christians have frequently treated homosexuals horribly, and still do to this day. The extent of that horrible treatment, and the reasons for it, have been confused, exaggerated, and manipulated, of course. But the horrible treatment was and is there, and requires apologizing and asking forgiveness, and few convincing apologies open with phrases like, "You know, you shouldn't have made such a big deal out of what I did to you, but ..." Asking forgiveness is, by definition, a decision to swallow one's pride, and there's nearly always at least as much ego in any defensive reply as there is simple desire for accuracy.

So what am I saying needs to be changed, or repented of?

I am not saying that the Church's teaching needs to change. I don't believe that. I am, in that way, a walking contradiction to the claim that people like me, who speak the language of the queer movement, are always and necessarily opposed to traditional orthodoxy.

I am saying that homophobic treatment of queer people is wrong and needs to stop. I use the word homophobia in its colloquial, popular sense: an attitude that presumes that gay people are problematic in other ways that that attraction: assuming that they are promiscuous, for instance, or unprincipled, or likely to be pedophiles, or emotionally stunted. This would be wrong and need to stop anyway, for the sake of justice and charity. But it is even more crucial that it stop in our own era, because it has the power to seriously damage the Church's credibility. The Church professes to love gay people, but that love needs to consist in more than telling them about the wrongness of gay sex: it has to consist in actively asserting (not just admitting, with a tone of concession) the dignity of LGBT people, and actively opposing what many of us have experienced: the bullying, the being thrown out of our homes, the outright violence.

Melinda Selmys said recently that "Preaching to gay folks starting with the 'truth about homosexuality' is like proposing to a woman by offering to correct her faults." My thoughts exactly.

*Thanks, Wikipedia!

**I mean, of their time explaining themselves online. Obviously their actual practice will be different, and I've heard much more positive accounts of that from several authors whom I respect, such as Eve Tushnet, Joshua Gonnerman, and Melinda Selmys. But I am dealing with self-representation here.

***The pastor of my old church said once in a sermon that, in membership interviews, he often said that "One of the requirements to join this church, or any church, is that you have to be a sinner. And sometimes I'll add, maybe under my breath, 'And to join a Presbyterian church, you have to be totally depraved.'"

****Sorry, Bill O'Reilly. ZING!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Music: mewithoutYou

I am now back. But I don't feel like blogging tonight and it's getting late anyway, so I'm going to post some angsty beautiful music instead.

I discovered mewithoutYou through a friend of mine, and listened to their song O, Porcupine about a dozen times asking myself "Do I like this?" and being genuinely uncertain of the answer. Eventually I concluded that I did, and have acquired a slightly broader taste since then in their odd genre of underground indie hardcore alternative folk punk (for lack of a better way of describing it). This particular song, Carousels, from the album Catch For Us the Foxes, is one of my favorites; it exhibits their remarkable lyrical blend of intense, depressive darkness and suffering with an equally intense -- even perhaps mystical -- spirituality. It is, to my mind, head and shoulders above most contemporary Christian music, if only because it doesn't follow the cookie-cutter Shiny Happy People pattern that most Christian music does (which is done well by some groups, like Hillsong, and extremely poorly and/or with insufferable cheese by others who shall remain nameless).

On a bus ride into town
I wondered out loud
"Why am I going to town?"
And as I looked around
At the billboards and the stores
I thought "Why do I look around?"
And I kissed the filthy ground
The first dry spot I found I laid back down
And I didn't have to wonder
Why I was laying down

Before long I was too cold
Took a bus back to the station
And I found a letter left by a payphone
With no return contact
And it read like a horn blown by some sad angel
"Bunny, it was me
It was me who let you down"
It was the shyest attempt
I'd ever seen at conversation

But if I didn't have you as my guide I'd still wander
Lost in Sinai
And counting the plates of cars from out of state
(How I could jump in their path as they hurry along)
You surround me
You're pretty but you're all I can see
Like a thick fog
If there was no way into God
I would never have lain in this grave of a body for so long

And Bonner Fair always came through
The first week of September
But it's already the nineteenth
And there's no sign of it
Yet I have a hard time
Remembering all the things I should remember
And a hard time
Forgetting all the things
That I'm supposed to forget

Christ, when you're ready to come back
I think that I'm ready for you to come back
But if you want to stay
Wherever exactly it is you are
That's okay too
It's -- it's really none of my business

But if I didn't have you as my guide I'd still wander
Lost in Sinai
Or down by the tracks watching trains go by
To remind me there are places that aren't here
And I had a well
But all the water left -- I'll go ask your forgiveness
With every breath
If there was no way into God
I would never have lain in this grave of a body
For so long, dear

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Five Quick Takes


I'm spending a week away from the blog; I need to not be on the webnet all the gorram time (yes, that was a Firefly reference, and you're welcome), if only because not disciplining myself to sometimes not get on the webnet has resulted in my having the attention span of a coked-up squirrel -- and also in the belief, which I have found by experiment is not generally true but have not yet successfully ceased to believe, that if I just refresh's cover page enough times, there will be new articles there that were not there forty seconds ago. This week, being an Ember Week, seemed peculiarly appropriate to observe such a fast, as it were. I hope these quick takes tide you all over, so that you don't despair of all wisdom and start coking yourselves up in my absence.

+     +     +


I've been rereading some of the Hitchhiker's books lately. I was raised on Douglas Adams, whom I associate vaguely with the nonsense tradition in English literature -- the seminal example is, of course, Alice, but touches of the same thing can be found in Peter Pan, the Seuss books, Kafka, and some of Roald Dahl's stories. (Wikipedia claims that Joyce is also regarded as a nonsense author, but, since I like nonsense while detesting Joyce, I try not to think about that.) Anyway, I've been mulling over the sort of agnostic/atheist scientific materialism that seems increasingly popular in the twenty-first century, of which Adams was an exponent. However, he had a good deal more sense, both as a man and as a philosopher, than many of that crowd enjoy,* and I was arrested by the following passage from So Long, And Thanks for All the Fish:

"I'm afraid I can't comment on the name of the Rain God at this present time, and we are calling him an example of a Spontaneous Para-Causal Meteorological Phenomenon."

"Can you tell us what that means?"

"I'm not altogether sure. Let's be straight here. If we find something we can't understand we like to call it something you can't understand, or indeed pronounce. I mean if we just let you go around calling him a Rain God, then that suggests that you know something we don't, and I'm afraid we couldn't have that.

"No, first we have to call it something which says it's ours, not yours, then we set about finding some way of proving it's not what you said it is, but something we say it is.

"And if it turns out that you're right, you'll still be wrong, because we will simply call him a ... er, 'Supernormal' -- not paranormal or supernatural because you think you know what those mean now, no, a 'Supernormal Incremental Precipitation Inducer.' We'll probably want to shove a 'Quasi' in there somewhere to protect ourselves. Rain God! Huh, never heard such nonsense in my life."

+     +     +


I've never been able to settle with myself whether I actually want to get married, quite apart from any question of having a vocation to it. I know I did. I wanted a big family, actually. But I don't know how to sort out the sorts of desires that are just the baseline of being an ordinary human being, so to speak, and the sort that God is using to tell you something about what He wants for you. I know that the desire to be a father, and even a husband, has not faded the way my desire to be a priest has faded; but then, my desire to be a religious brother hasn't faded either, even though that's probably out of the question. Not knowing is becoming much more familiar territory than it was when I was younger and the world, and God, were so much smaller.

+     +     +


I've been toying lately with the idea of writing a little book, and I already have a title: Anarchist Aphorisms. A few afternoons ago, it came to me, after -- I don't know how -- I suddenly thought up, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but why it's gotten handsier than a drunk frat boy."

+     +     +


I did tell Victor, once, that I loved him. I had been half-hoping that he would respond with a profession of love himself, even though I was sure he wouldn't. He didn't, of course. I can't remember exactly how the conversation went after that, except that at one point I said something about perhaps becoming a teacher.

"Are you sure that's a good idea?" he asked gently.

I stared at him for a second or two, putting the pieces together in my head, and then replied angrily, "I'm not a pedophile, if that's what you mean."

It was. Victor apologized and backed off, and the conversation went elsewhere.

It wasn't until years later that I realized that -- incredibly wrong though his conflation of homosexuality and pedophilia was -- he showed, in that moment, that he cared for me as a friend and a brother so unconditionally that he would have gone on caring for me even if I had been a pedophile.

*For the record, my own interactions with atheists and agnostics, whether they were scientific materialists or not, have been almost entirely pleasant, and indeed I've not infrequently found them to be better company than some of my fellow Christians. Nor have I often found them to be anything other than intelligent, honest thinkers. The trouble is that every crowd, whatever its creed, has its share of stupid people who are also loud, and I feel that there has been an abundance of loud, stupid atheists in the public square of late.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Reblog: Eve Tushnet

I just read this excellent piece by Eve Tushnet, one of my favorite queer Catholics. (After years of trying, I still haven't been able to come up with a satisfying portmanteau of gay/queer/etc. with Christian/Catholic/etc., it's very frustrating.) Here on her Patheos blog, she states quite neatly and succinctly certain of the problems that plague Catholic-queer dialogue, and have done for decades. The whole (short) piece is good, but I think the gem of it is the sentence, "Surrender and penitence are realistic whereas success is not."

Monday, September 9, 2013

Raw Tact, Part VII: Wilderness

When I gave up on chastity, a couple of years ago, it hardly felt like a choice at all. At any rate, it didn't feel like a meaningful one. It wasn't that I didn't perceive the gravity of the issue, it was that trying to be chaste quite simply didn't seem possible any longer. I had tried, and I had failed, so often and so thoroughly, that it seemed less immoral -- and less dangerous -- to at the least seek a monogamous and meaningful relationship.

Because, deep down inside, we all want a chance to show that special someone what boredom really is.

I can't really tell whether I've resumed the attempt at chastity now. I suppose I have. I mean, I'm trying to not have sex with guys, inside or outside any relationship. But the reasons I'm trying, and the form that trying now takes, are so alien to me that I don't even know how to classify them. And I'm not saying that as a clever, authorly way of conveying how real virtues are never what they look like from the outside (though that doubtless is also true). I really mean that the strange conglomeration of motives and decisions going on inside me -- they hardly feel like they're morally oriented at all. Even if they were to result in total abstention for the remainder of my life,* talking about these choices in terms of practicing virtue doesn't feel natural.

The thing, I think, that is hardest about the intersection of factors that I and men and women like me find ourselves in -- homosexual, Christian, evidently not called (for the foreseeable future, anyway) to marriage, and apparently not called to the priestly or religious lives -- the thing that seems hardest about it, sometimes, is the shapelessness of it. 

It's easy to feel frustrated and left out, socially and emotionally as well as sexually, when your friends are getting married in droves and having children, and you know you can't -- or at least not without a radical reworking of your personality. A lot of straight Christian readers will want to leap up at this point and say that that's exactly what God's grace and growth in holiness do, is to radically rework your personality. But sit back, for a moment, and try to imagine what it would cost you to enter a way of life in which most of your relational instincts, and nearly all of your sexual ones, are aimed at something that isn't there, and have to be redirected toward a radically different pattern.

No, not that pattern.

... Closer?

Well, what about celibacy? What, indeed. Some of us have callings to the priesthood, or to become consecrated brothers and sisters, yes. But they are always a minority of a population, and being gay is not a mark of that sort of vocation, any more than not having a visa to visit Canada makes you likely to be heading for Mexico. They might coincide -- but it would only be a coincidence.

The catch in that is, most of the structures that support celibacy in the Catholic Church are precisely those structures of the priestly and religious lives. Lay celibacy has long existed in the Church; one thinks of Cordelia Flyte in Brideshead Revisited, who speaks of both her brokenly alcoholic brother and herself, an ex-postulant from a community of nuns, as being "odd hangers-on" who don't quite fit into either the world or the cloister. It makes me wonder whether this is, or was, a more peculiarly European (or at least Old World) phenomenon, as I don't know that I've seen it in America. I have been seeking guidance on living as a lay celibate for years, and thus far, nearly all the advice I've run across has consisted, in substance, of "Make friends." Gee thanks.

But it's more than a lack of guidelines, a lack of forms or rules. Those things, rather, are symptoms of a more general feeling of lack: the lack of a positive choice. As someone -- well, it may not be very holy of me to feel this way, but as someone who has more or less been backed into celibacy by the dissonance between my erotic desires and my religious convictions, I haven't really felt that I was choosing something that existed in its own right. I've only felt the No: not marriage, not priesthood, not monasticism. I haven't felt the Yes, the decision to embrace something with a specific character, a shape of its own.

"Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it unto me according to thy word."

Cardinal O'Brien, the previous Archbishop of Baltimore, said that young people would give their lives for a mystery but not for a question mark. In pursuing celibacy as a gay Catholic layman, I very much feel that I've been offered a question mark.

It didn't have to be this way. I think that for our "grandchildren," or perhaps some generation further off than they, it won't be: that the accumulated experience of adaptations, mistakes, innovations, and sufferings will have formed a treasure of wisdom that will be equal to mapping this part of the wilderness that is God -- no longer a question mark, still a mystery. But right now it is this way. Right now it seems to be an embrace of something with no shape, a trek in a wilderness that has no roads.

And really it's the future I'm scared of. Few individual moments are unbearable. One reaches the occasional breaking point; and then you break, or mysteriously don't. But it's the prospect of a whole life spent this way that is so intimidating. The remorseless, incessant transitions, the sense of losing friend after friend to a marital or religious life that you can't share or even, really, understand, the feeling that everybody got a real vocation except you -- illusory, to be sure. Unfortunately that knowledge doesn't help much. Or rather, it strengthens without consoling; like a nutritious, flavorless meal, with just enough to quiet hunger pangs and no more. A flavorless meal -- a small, flat disc of white bread, the tiniest sip of wine; just enough. And that being suspended with just enough is really scary, because what if it stops being enough? What if it isn't there next time?

From Hyperbole and a Half, "Depression, Part Two" by Allie Brosh

As so often -- I have no answers, and therefore offer none. I categorically refuse to cite some sanctimonious moral about faith making everything better. That's not what faith is for, and it is most certainly not what faith does. The most I can do is say, with Job, that Though He slay me, yet shall I trust Him -- but with same uncomprehending agony in the background, or rather in the foreground. (How strange that we modern Christians have managed to turn, of all things, the book of Job, that collection of saintly blasphemies, into a source of cute bumper sticker quotations.)

*Fat chance of that. God is admittedly a worker of miracles, but it'd take a miracle for me to be that successful at chastity, and He doesn't generally seem to send miracles merely to accommodate His children's spiritual convenience.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Music: Psalters

This is a particular favorite of mine called "Ol' Glory," from the album The Divine Liturgy of the Wretched Exiles. Psalters are a nomadic Christian underground band, related to Shane Claiborne's movement, anarchists and pacifists. I keep thinking of this song, especially in the context of the proposed strikes against Syria.


the killing fields are striped with red
white lies in between
while on a placid blue they float
like islands safe from all they sowed beneath

high above that poor man's toil
they lay in sacred isolation
safely placed in rows they are
stars of self-preservation

and on good friday,
(and all that glory,)
all that ol' glory ...

in that corner sea serene
fifty stars line up against you
flying high but they will sink
with the weight of a heavy millstone

no man is an island
no man can run from all they've done
in that deep blue they'll sink
fifty stars never to see the sun

and on good friday
those red stripes were carved into your back
and on good friday
those stars spangle your back blue and black
and on good friday

those stars and stripes were torn in two
and all that glory, all that ol' glory
belongs alone
to You

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Pray and Fast for Syria

Pope Francis has proclaimed a voluntary fast this Saturday for peace in Syria. I plan to observe it, and I implore anyone who reads this to join the Holy Father in this. You don't have to be Catholic, or indeed a Christian, to do this; think of it as an act of solidarity with the suffering there, if you like.

Why fast, for Syria or anywhere? Here are four reasons:

1. Pope Francis asked us to. Not a binding reason, even for Catholics (since the fast is not an obligation but an invitation); but for those traditional Catholics who've been complaining that he isn't pontifical enough, and for those progressive Catholics who've complained that the Church doesn't show enough compassion for the suffering, here His Holiness is doing both. And even if you aren't a Catholic, he is an awfully nice man, so it's only polite to go along with it, don't you agree?

2. Fasting is a way of entering more profoundly into prayer. The Scriptures consistently associate prayer with fasting, and Our Lord presumes that His disciples will fast. Like kneeling or making the sign of the Cross, it is a sort of way of praying with the body as well as the soul; since we are souls and bodies at the same time, this is not only logical, but an enrichment of prayer. And we should be praying for Syria whether we elect to fast or not: the conflict is a ghastly one, and will likely be protracted even if the United States intervenes.

3. It is one way of showing solidarity with the suffering. It must be admitted that, since we are half a world away, this solidarity does not in and of itself help them. At least, not in any visible way; I don't profess to know what God does with the spiritual energy, if any, involved in fasting. But solidarity is good for us. It reminds us of what we too easily forget in our insanely easy lives, the real and bitter hardships that most people experience. That lesson in empathy can improve our character, and make better and more obviously efficacious acts possible to us. A simple fast may not sound like much, but after all, you have to start where you are -- and I'd lay fifties to any amount that a majority of Americans, perhaps even of American Christians, have never fasted.*

4. It is a symbol of nonviolence. Not that eating is a symbol of violence (unless you've watched Man vs. Food lately), but protests in the form of hunger strikes are a long-standing tradition of civil resistance, as exemplified in figures like Mahatma Gandhi, Cesar Chavez, and Venerable Dorothy Day. In contrast to strikes, or even sanctions, a fast is an act within oneself, and as such appeals to the opponent's conscience instead of his passions or appetites. Appeals to conscience are only too rare in our age, because, being accustomed to power, we subconsciously suppose that force will achieve peace; but the two are radically and intrinsically opposed. And as we suppose that no appeal save the appeal to force will succeed, we erode the power of the heart to respond to anything else. The determined refusal to appeal to anything except conscience, then, becomes a means of awakening and strengthening conscience; and if they harden their hearts, then we join with Jesus in weeping over a city that knew not the time of its visitation.

The normal rule for a Catholic fast (as observed in the Roman Rite, which encompasses most western Christians) is that one ordinary meal is allowed, as well as two snacks that are both less than half a full meal. That is the minimum; going further is of course permitted. It is traditional to abstain from meat on a fast day as well. Obviously the rule is defined relative to how much one normally eats, so there will be variation from person to person.

*Yes, counting Catholics. This is less because of the lax state of Catholic morals in this country, than just because Catholics are a (large) minority of Americans and a (larger) minority of American Christians.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Raw Tact, Part VI: Oh the Feels

I have a confession to make.

I don't handle weddings well.

Being a Christian gay twentysomething is a drag* during the summer. It's a parade of weddings. It isn't that you're not genuinely happy for your friends, or that you don't want to celebrate with them. You really are, and you really do. It's just that the emotions invoked by weddings for someone who can't really look forward to getting the same thing are rather more complex, and rather less nice, than just being glad for someone. And it isn't easy to figure out how to handle the negative emotions, either -- it would shockingly selfish and tasteless to say anything to anybody there, obviously, and there's only so long you can hide in the bathroom trying not to cry because you are a rampaging, jealous narcissist.

And people look at you funny if your coping mechanism is belting out Gloria Gaynor in the middle of the reception.

The difficulty isn't our exclusive property. A dear friend of mine, a quick-witted and delightful Catholic woman who is one of my favorite fag-hags, has made the same complaint; she's said, and I tend to agree with her, that the church can feel a bit like a commercial for marriage sometimes. It's too bad that feeling guilty about the negative feelings doesn't make them go away, because if it did, that would be boss.

I quite truthfully don't know what to do about this. I have an uncomfortable feeling that it may be one of those problems that just doesn't have a solution. Some problems are like that. Some kinds of suffering, including the suffering involved in being self-centered (once you've realized that you are self-centered and are trying to become less so) just have to be waited out, I think; call it a penance, I suppose.

And even if there is a solution, I have a hunch that it would not be a straightforward one. Dorothy Sayers, a friend of C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton, wrote an essay contrasting her work as a mystery novelist with the work of life in general, in which she said the following:

"The detective problem is always soluble. It is, in fact, constructed for the express purpose of being solved, and when the solution is found, the problem no longer exists. ... But it is unwise to suppose that all human experiences present problems of this kind. There is one vast human experience that confronts us so formidably that we cannot pretend to overlook it. There is no solution to death. There is no means whatever whereby you or I, by taking thought, can solve this difficulty in such a manner that it no longer exists. From very early days, alchemists have sought for the elixir of life, so reluctant is man to concede that there can be any problem incapable of solution. ... The only two things we can do with death are, first, to postpone it, which is only a partial solution, and, secondly, to transfer the whole set of values connected with death to another sphere of action -- that is, from time to eternity. ... 'Whose, therefore, shall she be in the resurrection? For the seven had her to wife.' In the terms in which you set it, the problem is unanswerable; but in the kingdom of heaven, those terms do not apply. You have asked the question in a form that is far too limited; the solution must be brought in from outside your sphere of reference altogether."**

What to do? Daydreaming about what I would have liked to have with Victor, or what my ex-boyfriend and I wanted, only feels good for about twelve seconds. After that things get decidedly worse.*** And faking cheerfulness -- even if anybody could feel authentic and comfortable doing that for more than about twelve seconds -- has the defect of not working very well. Loneliness and its children of self-pity and jealousy, that fear fathers on it, are extraordinarily powerful emotions that do not take kindly to being ignored; especially when, with respect to celibacy, you feel you've been backed into a corner by the conflict between what you feel and what you think -- or, from another perspective, between what you want and what you love.

So what creative thing can be done with such emotions? I'm not sure. Recognizing them for what they are -- flawed, but natural, reactions to the situation of unwanted singleness -- is a necessary first step. Learning to will the singleness God has willed for you is, I presume, part of the solution, but learning to want something is about as easy as carving a statue out of solid marble with a spoon. It can, in principle, be done, but you may be there a while. And in the meantime, there's the feels. Oooh the feels. They're awful. And I really think there's nothing to do but acknowledge them, try not to go nuts, and wait for them to go away.****

So ... I guess this post basically amounts to "Life's a shit sandwich sometimes." I hope you all ... found that edifying.


**From the essay 'Problem Picture,' in the collection The Whimsical Christian, pp. 133, 135, 141. I cordially dislike anthologies, especially ones with cutesy titles, but it's what I've got. I believe it was originally published in her book The Mind of the Maker.

***Which, naturally, means that I do it over and over. "I give myself very good advice ..." (Disappointingly, this doesn't even lead to an encounter with mome raths.)

****Okay, this helps too.