Celibate Vocations in the Catholic Church

It’s been about six months since I began seriously considering whether I could be a priest.

Which is insane. Unreal. This is coming from a guy who’s grown up wanting to be a dad of five-to-eleven kids (a baseball team!) and who’s always wanted to share romantic moments with a girlfriend/wife, who’s wanted that gorgeous woman to be openly sensitive with, and she would be treated as royalty.

And then six months ago, my conscience wouldn’t let me date a woman unless I seriously addressed these uncomfortable pangs of what could be God telling me he has something different planned for my life.

But different doesn’t mean bad. You’d think that hearing that God is calling you to live single for the rest of your life would be a burden, a crushing disappointment. The kind of calling from God that would make you run to the ends of the earth, rather than travel to Ninevah. But after a little investigation and a lot of prayer, I’ve found that this calling–the calling to a celibate life in service of God–is weirdly comforting.

And there’s a part of me that can’t believe I just published that publicly on my blog.

Recently I gave the teaching at my church’s high school youth group (LifeTeen) on the topic of celibate vocations in the Catholic Church. I’ve re-written some of it to make it fit better on the blog format.

Starting at the beginning: how to talk about celibacy

When talking about celibacy, firstly it must be known that this is always a conversation about love.

After all—what is in common with all vocations, all ways of life that God calls you to? Love. No matter who you are or what God calls you to, you know for a fact that you are called to love, and nothing less. Whether you are a missionary, a parent of three, twenty-something and still single, or a ten-year-old child, you are called to love. It’s simply how God ordered the universe and binds the universe together. Love is the highest of Christian virtues, the strongest of emotions, and the force which moves the world. Love is what forgives us our sins and draws us into heaven; love is what sustains our souls for eternal joy. God is love, right? And it’s because God loves the universe that, frankly, it still exists. He holds your atoms in existence because he loves them–and he loves that they form you. And God wants us to be in him more and more. You don’t need to have a spouse to receive or give God’s love. Especially if you respect Jesus–who never married, he never engaged in conjugal relations, and he was perfectly fulfilled in service to God.

Unfortunately, celibacy is often viewed as a kind of loneliness, or permanent separation. It makes a lot of people uncomfortable because we can’t imagine how we would receive any love in a life without a significant other, without a spouse in marriage to hold our trust and hear our hearts and share our life with. And, to make matters worse, we’ve been inculturated to believe that sexual relations brings us to the fulfillment of our humanity; that if we die without ever having engaged in sex, we were never truly human. And our emotions and passions certainly don’t help us think straight, either.

While celibacy means no sexual intimacy, it does not mean loneliness, and it does not mean lack of emotional intimacy. Sexual intimacy means promising yourself to love deeply only one person. Freedom from that allows a person to serve the needs of hundreds of people; to sympathize with them, to share with them in their joys and sorrows, to suffer alongside those who suffer. For priests and especially for Franciscans, it also means hanging out with other people who are lonely—the people our society forgets about, such as the homeless, the mentally ill, the elderly, and maybe just people who are down on their luck and ended up alone. The world is full of lonely people–people who, for one reason or another, don’t have a spouse either, and have also bought the tripe our culture says about them concerning those who aren’t married. That is why we have priests, nuns, and friars—because this world badly needs love, and celibacy has a unique capacity to reach out and love the unloved.

God’s plan for you–not as invasive and controlling as it sounds

You’ve probably heard that God has a plan for you.

This plan could be called your vocation, but at the same time it’s much greater than who you’ll marry or what parish you’ll preside in or what religious order you’ll join.

God’s plan for you is the plan for how he’s going to draw you up into heaven; how love will invade your soul and sanctify you, until you become like Jesus and Mary and your soul will find perfect peace and love and adventure in God’s limitless creativity. Your vocation takes your sanctification into consideration, as well as the sanctification of those whom you’ll be in contact with–your friends, your family, and those God will put under your care. God’s plan is about your holiness and, yes, your happiness, too. Believe it or not, priests are happy, and so are monks and nuns.

God, who designed your personality, your physical features, your strengths and weaknesses, your likes and dislikes, he knows and wants to give you what will make you most happy. He knows exactly what it’ll take for you to receive his pure love, unfiltered, and so to be sanctified for you to not only reach heaven, but in love carry your friends and family into heaven with you. If you’re in the wrong vocation, it’ll be harder for you to receive that love, and harder for you to give love to others in return, because it won’t come as naturally as it would have come had you paid attention to God’s call and gone into the vocation that was made for your personality/spirituality/gifts/temperaments.

Spiritual children

While marriage is what the majority of people are called to, there remains for the few, the joy, the mysterious desire, of the life of the religious.

While the physical expression of love within the context of marriage is in the generation of new life (BABIES!), the expression of love within the context of religious life is the regeneration of life in new believers, as well as the continual regeneration of the spirit of Catholics worldwide. Married couples give birth to babies, by their love, and then have tons of (“d’awwww,” “peek-aboo,” “coochie-coochie-cooo”) love to give to these babies. But priests and religious live out Christ’s calling when he says, “If you are not born again, you shall not enter the kingdom of God.”

Priests and religious then, have their own spiritual children. As I mentioned earlier, the highest calling, the highest vocation, the highest reality, for human beings is love. Love is what brings us to heaven. The love of priests and religious toward us can deliver us into the arms of Jesus in a special way that parents cannot; after all, we need priests to hear our confessions, to offer sacrifices for us, to celebrate the Mass, to marry us together, to baptize our friends and our children.

We also need religious orders in the Church to help point us to an even deeper sense of holiness and reverence than we normally experience in parish life. We need the dedicated and devout prayers of the religious to carry our Church through the tumultuous waters of this age–an age that, if things keep going the way they’re headed, seems as if it might overcome and extinguish the consecrated life.

Community life, community love

At the end of the day, when all the day’s work is done, the priest has the loving support of his parish as well as his priest-brothers, whom he confides in as his best buds. In religious orders, however, the brotherly relationships are much more apparent. In some religious communities, they eat all of their meals together, as a rule. They see each other all the time, as in many communities the friars and nuns won’t normally leave the abbey.

Over the years of formation, they form strong bonds of friendship and comradery and trust. It’s the farthest thing from loneliness as can be.

But perhaps most important of all, and I don’t think I could possibly overstate this, is the intimate and familial relationship that is formed between a friar or priest and God himself. You see, a vocation isn’t discovered or stumbled upon by force of will or intellect. It’s a gift from God, and he reveals it through close and intimate and trusting prayer. It’s not just knowing God on a first-name basis, but knowing God on a “you’re-all-I-have-left in-this-world” basis. It’s a matter of putting all your chips on the table and placing your bet where God is whispering.

From an outside viewpoint, it’s just nuts. The idea that you’d willingly give up your one and only life–your one and only shot at having the best human experience you can have with your life (and all the sex, beaches, mountains, friendships, thrills, and lifestyles one can experience)–and trading all of that in and saying, “Not for me. I want God, and God only. I want him in my dreams, I want him when I wake. I want him when I’d rather be on a beach, and I want him when my mind and body demand sex, food, and money. I want him more than human relationships, and I believe him when he says he’ll be with me always… even until the end of the age.”

And with that leap of faith, many priests and friars have found that God is there. He won’t impose his will on you, and he won’t make himself so obvious that you’d be stupid not to turn to him. But if you trust him–if you give yourself away to him–you’ll have the deepest, richest love you could ever find. Who could ever love you deeper than Love itself?

The priest is never alone, nor the nun, in her cell with her rosary, nor the Trappist kneading curd. Those who have found–through truly massive amounts of prayer and devotion–that they are called to the celibate life, have found that it wasn’t something new they were looking for, but something they already had all along. A desire to spend the rest of one’s life in poverty, prayer, chastity, and love.

But how will you know if you don’t pray?

Suggested reading:

To Save a Thousand Souls by Fr. Brett Brannon. I’ve read this twice and intend to read it again. It’s a must-read and really the best place to begin.

The Liturgy of the Hours. Granted, you don’t read them, you pray them. As Yoda said, “Pray them you must.”*

The Celibacy Myth by Fr. Charles Gallagher and Fr. Thomas Vandenberg. This is an out-of-print book from the 1980s so you’ll have to dig through the ends of the internet or the bowels of your Catholic university library to find a copy. A must-read for understanding celibacy.

“The Priest I Seek” and “Mary and the Office of the Priest” by Hans Urs von Balthasar from the book, Priestly Spirituality, published by Ignatius Press. The rest of the essays in this book are just meh.

The Priest Is Not His Own by the venerable Fulton Sheen. Especially to get at the heart-intention of the priesthood, supported by pastoral Catholic teaching.

Biographies are also a great way to get a grasp on the holiness of the priesthood. Fr. Francis Trochu’s The Curé d’Ars and Fr. Benedict Groeschel’s biography of The Life of Fr. Eugene Hamilton will really show you what the heart of a priest is supposed to look like.

That should cover the priesthood. I’ve read a few other things, but none I could recommend. For the consecrated religious life (monks and nuns!), I’ve only just begun reading, so the list is much shorter:

The Contemplative Life by Fr. Thomas Philippe, OP. A must-read, especially if you’re (like me) thinking about the Dominican order.

“Thomas Aquinas and Vocational Discernment”, by Fr. Romanus Cessario, OP. It’s an essay that you can read here: http://vocations.opwest.org/home/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Thomas-Aquinas-and-Vocational-Discernment.pdf

And keep up your own spiritual readings. As I read St. Francis de Sales’ Lenten sermons during the span of Lent, so I plan to read his Marian sermons during the span of May. Find your own favorite saint or favorite spiritual writings and keep up reading through them. Your vocational discernment is not just about the priesthood and religious life. It’s about your holiness and happiness–so continue reading the things that stir your heart and mind.

And one more thing! Check out http://www.vocationboom.com. Listen to their podcasts!

And talk to your vocation director!

*Also: “Pray, or pray not. There is no try.”

May the fourth be with you!

James KA Smith and Liturgical Animals

On Friday I was able to attend a special Eucharist service at Christ Church Anglican here in Phoenix. There was a guest homilist, James KA Smith, who is well known for his writings on Christian worship, secularism, and other topics, and the service itself seemed to be conceived of as a kind of “liturgy workshop” for visitors from non-liturgical backgrounds.

Dr. Smith’s sermon was very good, I thought, but I’ll get to that in a minute. First I want to explain what exactly was going on at the service.

The reason I call it a “workshop” is that the presider took a minute or two before each part of the liturgy to explain its name, origin, and purpose within the service. Of course, the result of explaining what ritual action you are going to take before you take it is that what you are doing (almost) ceases to be a ritual action at all. I suppose it’s more precise to say that, the more discursive padding you provide, the lesser the power of the ritual to do its work in surely and silently forming you.*

* I’m speaking here about the natural power of ritual action and how it corresponds to our embodied experience, not necessarily about the supernatural effects of the Mass. I’m not sure yet about how to understand the way these things are connected — because they clearly are, yet a worship service without the special grace that comes through the Real Presence still has real formative power.

For evangelical churchgoers, this Pausing For Explanation will be such a familiar, rote part of experiencing church that it might take on a kind of ritual feel all its own. Scene: a pastor extemporaneously explains communion before the bread is passed around, or pauses to remind his congregation that infant dedication does not affect the baby’s salvation. A worship pastor discourses on the appropriate emotional response to the song he is about to play, as he provides mood music on the piano. But I’ve experienced this at Mass from time to time, too. It’s usually an older priest, and I want to say this was part of the generational problem of the 60s and 70s — priests genuinely came to think that the way to bring the liturgy to the people was to pause in the middle of performing it and explain the “real” meaning of every phrase and gesture. It was the heydey of what some ritual theorists refer to as “sincerity.”

But actually, because this is all about breaking down and analyzing the intrinsic but nondiscursive intentionality of the act, and bracketing it with more comfortable explanation, it transforms an experience of ritual action into merely learning about ritual action.

I can see why introducing things this way, on such an occasion, was seen as a helpful and welcoming thing to do for the visiting Christians from various backgrounds. I think I would have found it enlightening and inspiring when I was at the stage where I had read about and liked the idea of ritual, but had never experienced it as a fully intentional act. But as it was, I kept thinking — this is like explaining a joke before you tell it, or stopping in the middle of playing pretend to establish, “remember, right now I’m just PRETENDING to be a pirate.” The most disappointing words you can hear at a moment of your vicarious imaginative experience of piracy on the high seas are: “I don’t want to play anymore.” In my house as a kid, that would get you kicked in the shins. What do you mean, you don’t want to play?! We weren’t playing. You just ruined it!

Now, I rush to say, I didn’t exactly want to kick the good rector in the shins, but it did notably disrupt the momentum of what we were doing (as I’m sure he was also aware), and it also reminded me of what “we,” liturgical Christians, are up against when it comes to sharing traditional forms of worship with our evangelical brethren. Overall, the experience really highlighted for me how deeply entrenched this culture of discomfort-with-ritual is in huge swathes of Protestant or evangelical Christianity. I’ve read some books on ritual in the framework of modernity that have helped me see the wider intellectual and social trends behind anti-ritualism, but I couldn’t help but wonder about why this discomfort manifests itself so potently in this specific subculture.

Incense. An essential.

In the evangelical communities where I grew up, we did everything we could to stave off the suspicion of ritual — chiefly by pausing to explain and explain away the “inessentials” of what we were doing. These “inessentials,” I now see, were in large part the forms and patterns and actions that are actually the backbone of what it means to do or mean anything. I personally responded very well to ritual in all areas of my life, and actually look back at my childhood and laugh when I realize all the ways I was acting out (so to speak) my liturgical deprivation. I won’t go into the ways I filled the void, but suffice it to say that it involved pretended reenactments of “pagan” rituals and a continual longing to be Jewish, since they at least got all the fun stuff, before the Gospel made it obsolete.

Learning that the Christian dispensation did not make ritual obsolete, but actually built on it, drawing Christian worship toward some even more transcendent and immanent reality, was and is a continual joy. I learned what ritual actually was through ennacting it together with a community that was carrying on the practice of the Church throughout generations. I put my back up against it and slowly soaked in what was happening and what I was.

When I miss being evangelical, what I miss is the world, the kind of living, that I experienced through what we did. I sometimes miss the praise and worship “mode” of singing (though not often, to be honest) — or, more frequently, I miss the very earnest, very self-effacing position of prayer that I’ve dubbed the Evangelical Slump. (You know what I mean: elbows on knees, forehead propped on fists.) I miss carrying a huge Bible to church, or summer camp, or the cadence of extemporaneous prayer (which, I realize after seven years away from it, requires continual practice and formation to keep up). It might sound shallow to focus on these “externals,” which I was always taught were essentially meaningless. But they weren’t meaningless. They taught and formed me – not just my intellect, not just my beliefs, but my very self, the desires of my heart.

It’s these experiences that make our human lives what they are, and form us as members of the Body.

The Evangelical Slump.

So I come around at last to Dr. Smith’s homily, which meditated on this point: that ritual practice is an apprenticeship of repetition that forms our habits and our hearts, in allowing us to continually enact who we are called to be. As he repeats often in his books, Dr. Smith describes human beings as “liturgical animals.” Liturgical action, or ritual, is not something “man-made” that threatens our authentic experience of relationship with God — it is actually God-made, in that he is the one who created us to respond and live through the experience of ritual, as part of our human nature. As Christian worshippers (described in Colossians 3), we “put on love” through our enacting of liturgical worship, becoming more and more aware of what our hearts should love (and aware of what they love instead), both learning and becoming in this “school of love.” (I underlined this quote in my notes — the “school of love” is the way that Benedict describes the monastic life in his preface to the Rule.) Dr. Smith delivers some great lines that pack a punch and sent a ripple through the congregation. I jotted down:

On the Eucharist: “The way to our hearts is through our bodies – we absorb God’s story at a gut level.”
“We become what we worship because we worship what we love.”
Punning on SAD: “Lent is a season of affective order.”

He quoted Augustine (“he who sings prays twice”) and the congregation almost groaned, they were so moved with recognition — another note in my file for the essay I will someday write about how singing is the evangelical sacrament.

I appreciate Dr. Smith’s obvious familiarity with the medieval philosophical tradition on habits (internal dispositions of character) and his indebtedness to Augustine and Thomas in certain aspects, and wish I could comment more on his incorporation of quotes from Luther and Calvin. As both of these confessional traditions preserved liturgical worship, but in a markedly different form than before, I have much to learn about the way that liturgy has been conceived of and practiced in these “lower” traditions. My jump from evangelicalism to Catholicism leads me to assume that any liturgical tradition is as “high” as my own, since it is high compared to where I started — but the more I experience worship in liturgical Protestant communities, the more holes I find in this assumption.

It was a very auspicious time to hear Dr. Smith’s thoughts on the essential role of liturgical ritual action, as I’m heading in to Lent, and I have not always been a very successful observer of liturgical seasons. It’s a challenge in our life, which teems with so many rival liturgies, many of which exist to tear us away from forming solid habits and sane dispositions in the first place. I think modern Westerners suffer from a real lack of ritual formation in all areas of our life, which can make it difficult to actually benefit from ritual practices unless we approach them in the right way. It certainly has been difficult for me in the past — fasting is a particular hurdle. But Dr. Smith urged that we remember Lent as a time to submit to the story we are told in worship, letting it govern our imaginations and affections at a visceral level, the “tangible teaching of our hearts.”

I’ll be praying that he and all of you have a blessed Lenten season.

Easter Fire in the Holy Sepulchre.

Three poems on the Death of Mary

Not quite liturgically apropos — but close enough, I think, since the Immaculate Conception is on Monday:

Three poems from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Marienleben (Life of Mary cycle). Translated by Knut W. Barde:

The Death of Mary I

The same tall Angel who once brought the news
Of the birth to her,
Stood there, waiting for her to notice him,
And spoke: Now is the time for you to appear.
And she was frightened as then and proved herself
Again as the maid servant, deeply affirming his command.
But he was radiant and coming infinitely closer,
vanished, yet shone from her face, and called
The widely dispersed proselytizers
To gather at the house on the hill,
The house of the last supper. They arrived more heavily
And entered with fear: There she lay, stretched out
In the narrow bedstead, mysteriously bathed in
Ruin and in being chosen,
Wholly unharmed, like one who had not been used,
And listened to angelic song.
Then, when she saw them all waiting behind their candles,
she tore herself away from the surfeit of
Of the voices and with an overflowing heart yet gave away
the two dresses that she possessed,
And lifted her face to this one and that one…
(Oh origin of nameless brooks of tears).

But she settled into her weakness
And pulled the heavens down to Jerusalem
So closely, that her soul,
As it left her, only had to stretch a little:
Already he, who knew everything about her,
Lifted her into her divine nature.

The Death of Mary II

Who had realized that until her arrival
the crowded heavens had been incomplete?
The risen one had taken his seat,
but next to him, for twenty-four years,
there was an empty space. And they began already
to get used to the pure gap,
which seemed to have healed, because with his beautiful
spreading radiance the son was filling it.

Thus, when she entered the heavens,
she did not go towards him, despite her strong longing;
there was no room, only He was there and shone
with a radiance that hurt her.
But just now as her moving figure joined
with the new blessed ones
and stood discreetly, as light with light, next to them,
there erupted from her being such an assault of
glowing light, that the blinded angel who was illuminated by her
cried out: Who is this one?
A wonderment arose. Then they all saw
how God-Father above shielded our Lord,
so that in the mild gloaming
the empty spot could now be seen
like a small pain, a sense of loneliness,
as something he was still bearing, a remnant from
his time on earth, a dried up injury-.
They watched her; she looked ahead with fear,
bent far forward, as if she felt: I am
His most enduring pain-; and suddenly broke forth.
But the angels took her in their fold
and steadied her and sang with blessed voices
and carried her up the final steps.

The Death of Mary III

However, sooner than the apostle Thomas, who
Came after it was too late, the quick angel, who had
long been prepared for this, stepped in
and ordered at the burial place:

Push the stone aside. If you want to know
Where she is, who moves your heart:
Look: just as a lavender-pillow
She had been laid in there for a while,

That in the future the earth would smell of her
In its folds like a fine cloth.
Everything dead (do you feel), everything sick
Is stunned by her fragrance.

Look at the linen: where is it white,
Where becomes blinding and does not shrink?
This light out of this pure corpse
Was more clarifying to him than sunshine

Aren’t you amazed, how gently she escaped him?
It is almost as if she were still here, nothing has moved.
But the Heavens are shaking above:
Man, kneel down and see me go and sing.

Liturgy

Worship

The congregation clambers to its feet
At the first slow stirrings of song.
Numbered notes spill from stringed voices
Stirring simultaneous nostalgia and anticipation.

Drums and hearts beat, bonded,
As the worshipers wake to their surroundings.
The leader lifts his arms, sensing the spirit
And the audience accedes, hands raised to a familiar God.

Evoking empathy and ecstasy,
A flame is fanned in every follower
And the crowd cries in one accord:
Hold the Heathen Hammer High!

Psalm 6

O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger,
or discipline me in your wrath.

The Psalmist begins this song in a state of terror. The entire song is centered around terror; the fear of death, of suffering, and the total lack of power.

The heart cries out to the only one who can save it,

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.

What is this illness that he suffers? He is dying. Or, he thinks it. His body is giving way to the grasp of death—heal me! But it is not only his body that suffers:

My soul is also struck with terror,
while you, O Lord—how long? 

The reader is struck with the incomplete thought, followed only by a desperate plea for a quick recovery. While you… how long?

Poetry. Anxiety.
This is the cry of the soul in terror, in anguish. It is aware just enough to know how bad things are, and disturbed enough not even to finish a thought—only a question remains. How long must I wait?

And then, the soul attempts a plea—an appeal to reason: 

Turn, O Lord, save my life;
deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love. 

Why should God deliver you? Because that is who God is. So do this then—heal me—for your namesake, to reveal your mercy. And also:

For in death there is no remembrance of you;
in Sheol who can give you praise? 

What good would it be if I were to die here like this? Death is a finality, the end of life, and, subsequently, the end of my praising you.

But we must read this spiritually. For we know that through Christ, “death is swallowed up in victory.” Death is not a finality, we will be raised. But the second death could only have been conquered by Christ.

I am weary with moaning
every night I flood by bed with tears

This illness has lasted for a season. God, hear my prayer. Please!

My eyes waste away because of grief;
they grow weak because of all my foes. 

Has this illness not been caused by anxiety itself? Over those who seek to end his life? Over the enemy who waits at his door, seeking to kill and destroy? Where, then, is rest? And here is the crux of the matter:

Depart from me, all you workers of evil

The Psalmist’s command is not to his illness, but rather those who do evil around him. It is the unjust, the unrighteous—those who seek their will above the Lord’s—who have caused his state. What is his illness? Terror and its effects.

And why must those who call it go?

for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping. 

The Lord has heard my supplication
the Lord accepts my prayer. 

The Psalmist here shows why he is not an evildoer—his faith. In the midst of his terror he trusts in the goodness and mercy of the Lord. Even in the midst of misery and anguish, he trusts in the Lord and his goodness.

And thus,

All my enemies shall be ashamed and struck with terror;
they shall turn back, and in a moment be put to shame. 

The roles here shall be reversed—and not through justice, but rather mercy!

I fear for my life,
heal me, O Lord.
I trust in you,

the source of my illness will be vanquished.

Psalm 5

Dialectic.

Righteous

Unrighteous

Righteous

Unrighteous

Righteous

This song, in 5 stanzas, juxtaposes the plight of the righteous with the plea for justice. The Psalmist begins:

Give ear to my words, O Lord;
give heed to my sighing…
O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; 
in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch.

What is his case? That because the Lord is just, because he hates the boastful, the evildoers, the liars, He will not tolerate them. He will not hear them. 

But the Lord hears the psalmist—and why? Because of the singers righteousness? No, but,

Through the abundance of your steadfast love, I will enter your house. 

It is the Lord who leads the Psalmist into his court.

But not so the wicked—their own deceit keeps them from holding court with God.

Because of their many transgressions cast them out… 

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy. 

Who is it who sings with joy? Who is it whom the Lord hears?

Those who do not depend on their own counsels. 

Those who take refuge in Him, even if they take refuge in Him as one whom they fear, find peace.

So that those who love your name may exult in you. 

 

Psalm 4

Happiness.

You have put gladness in my heart
more than when their grain and wine abound

Pascal. Pensées 570
Types. — They [the Jewish people] had to deal with a carnal people and to render them the depositary of the spiritual covenant…God chose this carnal people, to whom He entrusted the prophecies which foretell the Messiah as a deliverer, and as a dispenser of those carnal goods which this people loved. And thus they have had an extraordinary passion for their prophets, and, in sight of the whole world, have had charge of these books which foretell their Messiah…

But David here, understanding the true nature of God, claims that the gladness that God deposits in his heart is more than the “grain and wine”—the carnal pleasures—that the Jewish people take pride in. The Psalmist here has a spiritual happiness, one that persists.

And this is what the Psalmist means when he says, “How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame?” His honor is the Lord, while the people seek after vain pleasures and lies.

But who are these who seek after vain pleasures and lies?

The ones that the Lord has not “set apart for himself”.

But this disturbs the spirit. “Has the Lord not set me apart?” But if you are disturbed, the Psalmist says,

“Do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent.”

Those who show disturbance are to show trust—trust in the silent contemplation of the Lord. Hope. Trust through the “right sacrifices” of those who “work out their fear in fear and trembling.”

Are we chosen by God? Do not despair. Instead,

“lie down and sleep in peace”

for we serve a God who

“makes us lie down in safety.” Hope.

Happiness.
A peace that “transcends all understanding.”

Paying Attention To The Sky

“His second night in Talkingham, Hazel Motes walked along down town close to the store fronts but not looking in them. The black sky was underpinned with long silver streaks that looked like scaffolding and depth on depth behind it were thousands of stars that seemed to be moving very slowly as if they were about some vast construction work that involved the whole order of the universe and would take all of time to complete. No one was paying attention to the sky.”
From Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor

Lyrics:

Times have changed,
haven’t they?
People go
And no one stays

I thought by now I’d find some peace of mind but
I’m getting more restless every day

We’re fascinated that our time escapes us
we wonder why things don’t fall into place

As we grow up
We keep on looking down to find

Something we’d have
if paying attention to the sky

We have changed
Haven’t we?
We both ate
from a poison tree

With opened eyes we closed our hands together
in hopes we could undo what we undid

Coveting the things that have been veiled
We buy and sell the very skin we hid

Afterthought


Lyrics:

Love can be an afterthought
Wakes you up to find you’re not
Where you really want to be
Missed an opportunity

I was asleep in
The heavens I created
Only to find that
Our hearts were separated

I won’t stop fighting till I die
I’m trying to be right by you and everyone you set apart
There’s no point hiding when I lie
You find me with a light reflecting off the souls I murdered in my heart

Love can be an afterthought
Shakes you up to find you caught
Up in arms and ready for
Fighting in a losing war