A walk a day keeps the diabetes at bay, so I spend an hour or two ambling the neighborhood most days. It just generally feels good and it’s been helping me drop pounds slowly too (down to about 263-265, which makes me happy).
Most of the time, when I walk, I make that my prayer time. Sometimes I say the Rosary, sometimes the Mercy Chaplet, and sometimes I will bring my handy dandy little Magnificat and say the morning prayers. Sometimes I just wander around and talk to God/think things over.
So two weeks ago Saturday I took one of these prayer walks. I struggle with depression and the last two years have been the hardest of my life. I was feeling low last week. The malignant and intense hatred I have experienced from super-Catholics has been painful and my struggles with anger (generally the source of my depression) have made the attempt to focus on God and praise him hard. I have often felt as though the call and command to praise God was just pollyanna passive-aggression (especially when it comes from malignant Catholics who tell you to that your anger at them is sinful and a sign of divine rejection while they applaud kidnapping and disappearing children and put their shiny happy masks on to praise neo-Nazis or tell lies).
But I also know that the genuine tradition of the Church does, in fact, urge us to praise God and that “we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks and praise.” So I’ve felt conflicted.
Anyway, on this walk I was reading the morning prayer from the Magnificat and read Psalm 66:
Bless our God, O peoples,
let the sound of his praise be heard,
who has kept us among the living,
and has not let our feet slip.
For you, O God, have tested us;
you have tried us as silver is tried.
You brought us into the net;
you laid affliction on our backs;
you let men ride over our heads;
we went through fire and through water;
yet you have brought us forth to a spacious place.
I will come into your house with burnt offerings;
I will pay you my vows,
that which my lips uttered
and my mouth promised when I was in trouble.
I will offer to you burnt offerings of fatlings,
with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams;
I will make an offering of bulls and goats.
Come and hear, all you who fear God,
and I will tell what he has done for me.
I cried aloud to him,
and he was extolled with my tongue.
It was the feast of St. Polycarp and I was struck by the hymn which read in part ‘Long ago were loosed the chains which held your body once in thrall.’ It struck me that all my relatively petty troubles were ephemeral in the grand scheme of things. Especially in comparison to being burned to death. That helped.
In addition, I take the Paschal Mystery seriously as the template of The Way Things Really Are. So I have viewed the past two years of rejection and malice from super-Catholics through the lens of the cross. Many an enemy have written to gloat, to hope for my suffering and destruction, to tell me (with their oh-so-Christian love that puts scum like me to shame) how much they have enjoyed the prospect of hurting me, of hating me, and of willing my harm. I have had readers gloat over my diabetes and righteously tell me if I wasn’t such a fat pig I would not have it and if I die from it, tough shit and serves me right.
But all this malignant hatred has always felt external somehow, even when the malice has hurt me to tears. It has never felt oracular, never felt like they were delivering a message from God about his hatred for me. It has always felt like mere human dysfunction and people just working through their own shit as I am working through mine. Even when I’ve sinned (a frequent occurrence) I have felt for two years like God is Emmanuel, with me, not against me. The Good White Catholic wishes for my ruin, harm, and even death have always felt human, not divine, in origin.
That’s a big development for me, because for years I struggled with scruples and did feel like God was fundamentally against me waiting for me to screw up and fall. Life was a collection of rules to be kept and if I slipped up (as I always do) he was going to nail me. It was a sort of Twilight Zone fear that he was waiting until I finally let my guard down and trusted him to spring the cosmic practical joke and destroy me.
It was the persistent experience of grace-filled confessions (and confessors) that cured me of this and taught me to trust God enough to live as though he was my friend and not my enemy, hoping for my destruction. I am grateful to him for that.
Anyway, the reason the psalm struck me is that the psalmist sees the trial he has endured as a trial, not a lab experiment on rats. He treats it as a self-respecting human does when faced with the challenges of coming of age–as though the chance to struggle is an honor, not a de-humanizing insult from God. There is something… Klingon… in his response to his trials. He recognizes that God has permitted the suffering, but also sees that the suffering has happened, not to strip him of his dignity like a lab animal, but out of respect for his dignity, like a son. He understands that the trial has really happened because he lives in a universe where love lies at the bottom of things, no matter how much malignancy humans and devils interpose. He responds like a man–not a machismo swaggerer–but a man with full dignity. He sees that he has been honored by a God who really honors him and that he would have been the poorer had affliction not been laid on his back, men ridden over his head, and he not gone through fire and through water. As a Christian, I can take that as a share in Christ’s cross, an honor the psalmist could not conceive, even as he foreshadowed it under inspiration.
That led to another insight that helped me: the realization that praising God could be an act of defiance against hell instead of a passive-aggressive tool by the powerful to tell their victims, ‘You need to smile more.’ I thought of the pluck and cheerfulness of Poles living under communist rule. They exhibited genuine Christian cheerfulness that flummoxed their rulers. I thought of the apostles genuinely, not falsely, rejoicing when they were beaten or jailed. I realized that it might really be possible to authentically be glad in the Lord. And I realized (and struggle to hold on to) the truth that to really do that, you can’t build a life on protest–can’t walk backward into church with both middle fingers extended at the devil nor at one’s human enemies. To truly praise God you have to address yourself to him in real joy, not in schadenfraude and rejection of those who have rejected you. You have to be for life, not merely against death.
I wish I could be more Christlike in my responses to the rejection, hatred, malice, and contempt I have received from so many Catholics to whom I once turned for solace and friendship. I suck at returning good for evil and mercy for hatred. But the hopeful thing, for me that day, was that I received a consolation in the realization that it really is the case that at the bottom of things, God is love and that this love is before me, behind me, above me, and below me. And his love is still deeply present in many brother and sister Catholics, in family, and in new friends I have encountered in my exile from the ranks of the Righteous. I have a long way to go in learning to imitate that love. But there is hope that I will reach journey’s end.
I have, over the past two years, also run into many people who have experienced similar rejection. And I have recognized, to my deep shame, that I have often contributed to that in the lives of various people. For that, sincere apologies, particularly to the struggling.
If you have experienced rejection by the super holy, permit me to extend to you a word of welcome and friendship, if you’ll let me. I suck bad at being a Catholic. I’m often angry and depressive. I do not turn the other cheek well at all. And I am short-tempered with certain kinds of people. But I do like the company of outcasts and factory rejects and I hope for the day Christ makes me not suck so much. So, I take consolation in the word the gospel offers to persistent failures like me and I pass it on to you if it helps:
For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing abuse for him. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come. (Heb 13:11–14).
I would appreciate prayers.