Reclaiming a Holy Thing from the Dogs

So, a during the Carrie Prejean/Prop 8 kerfluffle, I wrote this:

“…if you’re going to take off your top for a camera, be prepared (sooner or later) to have to answer for it, both in this world, and the next…You’ll have to answer for it because when you profess yourself a Christian, you choose exile, and you will be held to a different standard, entirely, than the world’s.

In the next world, of course, you’ll have to answer to Christ, himself, who is much more merciful than the rest of us. He will likely ask you why you threw your pearls before swine.”

Or, of course, why she tossed her Holy Thing, which is her loved-into-creation body – the Temple of the Holy Spirit – to the Dogs.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, how cheaply we give ourselves away, how thoughtlessly we toss our valuables to those who will trash them. If we do not appreciate the value of who we are, and what we have to give the world, who else is going to?

By valuables, I mean many things. My friend Dick Meyer has advised me many times to stop blogging and “only write when you’re paid for it,” and it’s tempting, particularly when I have worked on something that took prayer and thought and care only to post it and have some troll come in and urinate all over it for a quick and malicious thrill. Not that my stuff is pearls, and the pissers are swine, but in a sense I have “given it away,” for free, not even tried to submit it somewhere to earn a few bucks and help our strained coffers, and then one does have to wonder; if I value my own work and my own ideas so little that I will throw them up on a blog for “free,” then why should I expect anyone to find value in them, or to do anything but sic their inner dog on them?

On the other hand, I also feel like putting up something thoughtful “for free,” is a rejection of the materialist mindset. Sometimes my husband will read something and say, “that’s good; couldn’t you have submitted it somewhere and you know, made a few bucks for the kid’s college tuition?” And sometimes I know he’s right, I could have sold the thing, if I’d tried to.

But I don’t want to only write when I’m getting paid for it. I want to write because I love to do it, because writing -whether I do it well or ill- is like breathing, to me. And I like to believe that for all of my weaknesses as a scribe (and I know I have many) I’ve built a little community here that enjoys exchanging ideas and engaging in the occasional polite tussle.

Also, of course, I am really a super-opinionated person and if I did not have the blog, my family would have to listen to me all the livelong day, and that would be bad…oh…very bad.

But I’m not really talking about money.

Thoughtlessly, we give away our boundaries, physical, spiritual and psychic – we allow breeching and encroaching without understanding that our natural or learned boundaries are not prisons but safety zones, the places reserved for ourselves and God and those most beloved to us.

All-too-seldom do we reserve those things for their proper dispersal. Instead, like Chesterton’s “dead things that go with the stream” instead of against it, we bow to the popular culture and morality. We give away our chastity for a very temporary pleasure that brings with it a strange hollowness; with repeated behavior it can only grow into an aching void.

We give away our sensible reserve, rather than be thought haughty. We give away our better instincts to kindness, in order to make the cheap joke, and when the snickers are over we must listen to our consciences.

All are guilty, from time-to-time, of throwing away our Holy Things, and when we do it, we contribute to the coarsening of the culture, and the hardening of our own hearts.

But I’m not really talking about our social trip-ups, either.

Yesterday I wrote about an Icon I am currently studying a great deal, in my prayer. It is called “Lord, Save Me.”

The lessons I am learning from this Icon are many and varied, and not all are for discussion. But as someone who has struggled with her weight for her whole life, and yo-yo’d spectacularly, the image of Peter sinking under the weight of his own doubt, self-awareness and fear – and the title, “Lord, Save Me” – are eloquent of the near-despair I can sometimes feel about this struggle. There are times when I thank God for my weight problems because they’re a handy “thorn in the flesh,” that keep keep me humbler than I would be otherwise. Most of the time, though, it’s “Lord, save me.” Save me from myself. Save me from the pointless act of constantly trying to fill my own aching void with the food that will never satisfy. Save me from this great battle.

But then I don’t really want anyone else’s great battle, either.

I was studying the Icon again this week (sometimes I just like to look at the thing because it is simply so beautifully rendered) and thinking about Peter kvetching and testing and prompting the Lord. Jesus responds by teaching him a lesson of great power and depth: that He, Jesus, is the Holiest within the Holy Thing that is Creation, and that we too are Holy Things, able to work and walk remarkably within that swirling, vibrant, energetic, ever-ancient-ever-new Holiness, if we but keep our eyes on the One.

Thinking about the Holy Thing of Creation brought thoughts of the Holy Thing that is our incredibly, perfectly-designed body. Thinking of that brought me back to “Lord, save me.” And that’s when I realized, I have for too-long tossed my Holy Thing to the Dogs of appetite, marketing, impulse, expediency, poorly-healed woulds, excuses and recent sloth.

I am determined to stop doing that, to stop throwing my Holy Thing, this Temple of the Holy Spirit, to these inner dogs. The food program is developing, the exercise regimen is challenging but surprisingly satisfying.

An old battle is being engaged with a weapon of new understanding. And each day I pray that Christ assist me, that he be pleased to carry out within me the restoration he has planned to carry out, in the fullness of time, in all Creation.

God had given us the wisdom
to understand fully the mystery,
the plan he was pleased
to decree in Christ

A plan to be carried out
in Christ, in the fullness of time,
to bring all things into one in him,
in the heavens and on earth.

There is an old burlesque bit: – a young woman meets an older woman at an entrance and she motions the older woman through with a catty, “age before beauty.” The older woman, walking through, looks back and responds sweetly, “pearls before swine.”

Pray for me, that whether an Age or a Pearl, I am able to talk through the narrowest of pathways without having to suck in my gut or sidle along, like a crab. That I can run the race with my Holy Thing reclaimed, restored and surrendered in trust, until I am finished, and like a libation poured out.

UPDATE:
In the comments section of yesterday’s piece, someone asked for older posts mentioning Holy Icons. My “Categories” thingy does not seem to be working properly just now, so here they are a few, and if I find more, I’ll add them:

The Cooling Shade (Part of the 2008 Online Retreat I tried out last summer.)
Saints Alive! (Discusses some books on Icons)
The Truth; There is Only One (wherein I yap about Icons of public figures)

UPDATE II:
Coincidentally, Sr_Lisa today twittered, “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living..God formed man to be imperishable” from the first reading at mass this weekend. More mysteries about our Holy Temple. God’s perfect timing.

UPDATE III:

Also read Deacon Greg’s thoughtful homily: “The safest place for me to be is in the center of God’s will…”

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Shannan

    I will keep you in my prayers for strength and fortitude. Sometimes your posts really hit the spot. Thank you for that. Thank you.

  • Scott Hebert

    I will pray for you, Ms. Scalia. But I find your observation truly poignant, in an unrelated field.

    I study Industrial Engineering, and for one class this semester I was assigned a case study that dealt with a (financially) unhealthy hospital. The CEO (or equivalent) of the hospital has a tough choice to make about the level of service he provides to his community, as he does not have the funding to continue on the current path.

    There are all kinds of responses to the situation, but common to them is this continuum (referred to by one of the respondents) as the ‘mission-margin’ continuum. That is, the mission of the hospital is healthcare, but it is also a business, and therefore must make money.

    You make the argument here that we all must realize this core issue, and for that I thank you. I will try to use what I’ve learned in my case study in my life.

  • kelleybee

    I think I suggested this before, or should have…write a book. Fiction or not….I keep dreaming about your “book”. hmmm What does that say?

  • Katherine

    I keep rereading your 2006 Costco post, and I think you should submit it to them. It’s excellent, and a good example of what should be paid work.

  • http://www.iannarino.us Franciene McDonald

    I have been reading your posts for a couple of weeks now. Though I read mostly political blogs, I have really enjoyed yours because they combine a good insight to events and a spiritual yearning that I feel myself. I was taken by this post not because your were writing about Carrie Prejean but something else you said: …”I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, how cheaply we give ourselves away, how thoughtlessly we toss our valuables to those who will trash them.” After my dad was murdered by a caregiver, I published the story of what happened to him and my family (the site referenced above) even though it was painful. I thought that telling our story might help someone else. In short, I gave my gift by writing about what happened to us, and now I leave it up to God to take it where it needs to go. Your posts have come to me and touched me deeply. If you will permit me to say this — you have given your gift and God is taking it where it needs to go even if some folks do not see the value in your gift. God bless you.

  • http://www.aconservativelesbian.com Cynthia Yockey, A Conservative Lesbian

    If you have difficulties with your sleep, or daytime sleepiness, you may have a sleep disorder that is causing or aggravating your weight problem. Inadequate sleep affects the hormones that govern appetite and the sense of satiation. Obstructive sleep apnea causes cravings for salt and sugar. Poor sleep also makes one feel less like exercising. I have more in a recent post at my site in which I speculate on whether the combination of obstructive sleep apnea and sedating drugs caused Michael Jackson’s death.

    Cynthia

  • Timothy

    I think you are too skinny.

    Your words are more valuable than money.

    You can license your work so it is free on your blog AND get paid for it in print. I work in “open source” software and it is quite lucrative and free to anybody who has eyes to see it; insist.

    The Icon is stunningly beautiful. Thank you.

    t.

  • Beatrix

    “Age before beauty” : “Pearls before swine”
    Mary McCarthy : Dorothy Parker, I thought.
    Please don’t stop blogging. I’ll send you renumeration – let me have a look-see under the couch, I’ll get back to you…

  • saveliberty

    You are in my prayers.

    Thank you for all that you have given and please do what is best for you and your family.

  • http://celticpole.blogspot.com Barb

    Thank you. This swine appreciates your pearls!
    There is so much here that resonates with me – food, settling for less than what I need, not living into who Christ created me. Reminds me of 2 things: 1) Lion King (I’m a disney gal more than Chesterton, comes with having little ones in the house still)- when Mufasa reminds Simba he is not being the king, not fulfilling his destiny so Simba must have forgotten who is is. (favorite Disney animated film scene!); and 2) opening lines in George MacDonald’s the Princess and the Goblin. MacDonalad writes about princesses to remind little girls that we are princesses, daughters of the king, and sometimes we act as if we were born of the mud. We must remember our lineage and act into that.

    Thank you.

  • JuliB

    Anchoress,

    While you are rightfully concerned about blogging for free and giving yourself away, only to be tinkled on by passing trolls, I see it another way.

    I think you are preaching the Gospel and like the Apostles — and Christ himself — you meet up with those with ears who refuse to hear. So the trolls them spit on the ground as they walk past you.

    So you see it as blogging, but it comes to me as hearing the Word from your perspective.

  • Hans Carlson

    Ms. Scalia, I have been reading your writing for a number of months, and was delighted when you moved to “First Things.” I think I have subscribed to that magazine since it started. Reading this entry got me thinking about a book I enjoyed (and which you may have read) entitled “If You Want To Walk On Water, You Have To Get Out Of The Boat,” by John Ortberg. It is a book-length reflection on the event shown in the icon displayed in your post. You write about the wasted gift, and Ortberg writes about the unused gift. Two sides of the same coin? In any event, your writing IS your gift, and it should be used, even if it doesn’t result in a cascade of dollars. You reach people, and make them think (and, perhaps, even act), and that is a rare gift. To not use it in order to avoid any possible wastage would be just wrong. (And, as you wrote, your family would likely suffer!) Keep writing, because I want to keep reading.

    [Thank you, you're very kind, and thanks for the book recommend; I had not read it but will look for it, now. The piece wasn't really about money but so many people have really focused on that part, that I wonder if it's not a sign of how much economic uncertainty is at the forefront of our thoughts? Or perhaps the Lord simply wanted me to feel verified in my sense that building community here has value, too! -admin]

  • Nancy

    Dear Anchoress,

    I love your blog!

    Peter may be kvetching (=complaining) but he’s not kvelling (=beaming with pride at another’s success).

    When I started teaching piano, I soon learned that giving lessons for free was counterproductive for the students. I charge a low hourly rate that my neighbors can afford, but need to take seriously.

    [Thank you for the Yiddish lesson; I sometimes think I know more than I do, based on what I gleaned out of my childhood! :-) I will fix - admin]

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  • http://dymphnaroad.blogspot.com/ dymphna

    Pick up a Vogue, Harpers Bazaar or even People Style and you’ll see more skin than Carrie Prejean showed. I’ve showed more at the pool.
    I think people are just being vicious.

  • kt

    anchoress, strength training really worked for me. There is a fitness guy called Gilad whose shows air on FitTV, he also has DVDs. He is a complete mensch and also happens to know exactly what he’s doing. His workouts are surprisingly easy at first yet surprisingly effective. Once you develop the muscles you will *want* to exercise and move and eat less. truly. look up Gilad’s “total body sculpt” dvds (these shows also air on FitTV if you have that channel). You just need a pair of 3lb weights and 5lb weights, no other equipment. increasing muscle mass will burn the fat.

  • Jessica

    I have been reading your blog for over two years. Your Catholic writings are what brought me back to my Christian roots after being away for a few years. I enjoy your humor, wit, humility, spirituality and political analysis. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that your work is valuable enough to charge for. (Even as a lowly opinion columnist for my school paper, I got paid $15 a week!) Thank you for your dedication to blogging, it has made a difference in my life.

  • Mimsy

    You see how many appreciate you and your writings in so many ways…and I know there is some ratio of how many post comments to how many actually must be reading–you probably know how to do that. Anyway, thanks again, for touching on some sensitive themes. Weight is always an issue for me, too. Sigh. And working for free is another issue. If I charged for my work, I’d have to turn down clients, but since I don’t charge, I have too much to do! And my family does get irritated with my busyness…

  • http://www.karenwongart.com Karen Wong

    Wonderful that you post your thoughts for us for free, but that doesn’t need to be the end of it. Dozens of these essays could be briefly edited and compiled into a really great, deeply moving book and get a few dollars for the family coffers. I would buy such a book, even having read the blog first. Your comments on the weight issue are spot on with my own experience. Lately, I have been contemplating the definition of integrity – who am I when no one is watching? If I could become a person of integrity, most of my weight problems would disappear – no more secret eating, unnecessary late night snacks after everyone has gone to bed. Also a great image to think of Peter sinking under the weight of … and here fill in your pick. Do I really want to sink, or do I want to take Jesus’ hand and be lifted up to walk with Him. Thanks, Anchoress!

  • http://jscafenette.com Jeanette

    Proverbs 5:6-7 Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not to thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him and he will direct thy paths.”

    Good words to live by and I know you live them. Remember Jesus told us not to worry about tomorrow because tomorrow takes care of itself.

    The above may not be pertinent to this post but for some reason kept going through my head as I read the piece.

    Keep writing for us for free. Give your best to the publishers and let us share the crumbs because they are so tasty and inspiring.

    And about the weight. When we’re in heaven we’ll have perfect bodies, but if you feel it is a sin in your life by all means do whatever it takes to remove that sin.

    Bless you, my dear friend.

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  • http://rightasusual.blogspot.com Linda F

    One of the best Christians I ever met was my aunt Gladys. She was a preacher in a fundamentalist church, and worked very hard on her sermons.

    But the best sermon is the one she didn’t give – it was the example of a loving, giving mother and wife, who I can seldom remember sitting down. She delighted in doing for others, and was always cheerful about it.

    Carrie talks about her religion, but she serves as a negative example of it – she really should have been more cautious about her actions, and, having been confronted with proof of her failure, needs to realize that embarrassment and, yes, shame, would be appropriate.

    We are known more by our deeds than our words.

  • http://jscafenette.com Jeanette

    I wish to correct my bible citation as I wrote it from memory and late at night.

    It is not Proverbs 5:6-7 but Proverbs 3:5-6. Sorry for the mistake.

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