For I am a Woman Under Authority

For I am a Woman Under Authority December 3, 2012

This weekend, I attended a silent retreat.  The timing of the retreat on Saturday made it a good time to reflect on preparations for Advent (and plenty of other things — the retreat ran from 9am-6pm, and my friends offline will know it was only by the grace of God that I kept my motormouth from running all that time).  The Advent season is similar to Lent, a time of reflection, purification, and anticipation before a great feast.  So, many Catholics take on Advent fasts the same way they do at Lent.

Ideally, in Lent, you give something up and take something on.  Maybe you give the money you would have spent on coffee to the poor, maybe the time you would have spent on TvTropes is where you make space for a daily Rosary.  Since I’ve just entered the Church, I’m hesitant to label any spiritual practice I’m taking on as special for Advent.  But, during the retreat, I did discern a sacrifice that it might be salutary to make.

I’m going to go to bed by 1am on average during Advent.

I graduated college only a year and a half ago, and my body happily accepted more sleep when I became an adult with regular hours.  (Believe me, you don’t want to know how much I slept in college).  But it’s still a good deal later than most people seem to stay up.

The thing I really like about late hours is the flexibility of them.  As long as I’m awake and alert feeling, there’s always more time to get things done.  It doesn’t necessarily take a toll on my life (thankfully, I seem to need less sleep than average), but it’s not great having that time in the open-ended evening instead of the morning.

Jenifer Fulwiler has written about how praying the Liturgy of the Hours made her freer by letting her work within limits.  The prayers introduced hard stops to her schedule, non-negotiable limits that made her think more about which and how many projects to take on.  She was recently struck by the way that monastic communities live out this freedom-through-limits idea.

And since I’ve been thinking about this, the Gospel reading at Mass today caught my ear.  Jesus’s encounter with the centurion in Matthew 8:5-11 is the source of a revision in the missal (for non-Catholics, a pre-Eucharist prayer was changed from “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed” to “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed”).  But I’m more interested in the part that comes right after:

The centurion said in reply,
“Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof;
only say the word and my servant will be healed.
For I too am a man subject to authority,
with soldiers subject to me.
And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes;
and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes;
and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

I like whatever superpowers accrue to me (I read a lot faster than average), but enjoying a strength is different than denying  a limit.  So I’d rather shift my waking time to the morning, when I’m much more aware of my constraints than leave it flapping around in the evening, when I don’t feel accountable to anyone or anything.  (Ok, technically I’m still at the “I want to want this” stage, but I’m working on it).

The upshot of all of this is that the following scene took place in my living room last night.

(glances at clock, notices it is 12:57)  “Shoot!”  (hastily closes laptop)  “I’m going to go brush my teeth really really fast!”

“Perverse incentives, much?”

PERVERSE INCENTIIIIVES!” (while taking the stairs two at a time)

Ora pro me.


P.S. The way I’m keeping track of all this is a website called Beeminder, that makes it easy to track progress toward a goal.  (This is how I keep track of the slowly increasing number of push-ups I do per day, for example).  In this case, since Beeminder lets you enter times to track, I’m just putting in the last time I see on my phone before I lie down with my eyes closed and the lights off.  (Since 1am is worse than 12:59am, I just enter post 1am times as 13:03 or whatever).  And then Beeminder makes a pretty graph.

Oh, and I get a free pass on the night of the Hobbit midnight premiere.  Just cause.


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  • My body wants 27 hour days. Unfortunately the earth does not comply.

  • I love the Hobbit thing. You need to remember your fasts are yours. You design them to fit your personal idiosyncrasies. Too many people keep them too simple and they end up being oppressive.

    • grok87

      I wasn’t really that clued in to the idea of fasting during advent. But then I read this about Ember days:

      Apparently this advent’s ember days are wednesday December 19th, Friday december 21st and Saturday december 22nd. I’ve never done them before, but am thinking perhaps it might be interesting to try observing (i.e. fasting and prayer) them this year…

      • jenesaispas

        Interesting, thanks. 🙂

  • Dan Berger

    Point of information: the “new” formulation is the old formulation; it was changed to the less-direct quotation of the centurion when I was about 16. Glad to see it change back; I always liked that passage.

    Largely, I think, for the same reasons that you like it.

    • deiseach

      Yep, for us old-timers it’s not a revision, it’s a reversion. I’m old enough to have learned the first English translation as “Lord, I am not worthy that Thou should enter under my roof; say but the word, and my soul shall be healed.”

      The second ICEL translation was the blander English one. The new translation (which is really going back to the old new translation, which is now the older new translation since the new new translation is now the old new translation) is simply returning to a more literal translation of the Latin text.

      Side note: one thing about all the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth over the current reversion/revision translation was the cry “You can’t expect people to change the way they learned how to pray the Mass!”

      I’ve been around for (1) the Latin Mass (just about old enough; I remember being four or so at a station Mass – that is, Irish tradition of having Mass in one particular home in an area where all the neighbours attend – and covertly, as I thought, shuffling over on my knees to get a better view of what the priest was doing since he had his back to us) (2) the first English translation (3) the second English translation and now (4) this one.

      Somehow my brain did not explode. All you kids born in the 70s and 80s will survive as well 🙂

  • Ink

    I’m looking forward to the days in a couple weeks where I will be able to do this and not suffer academically. Though there is something really nice about working late at night while all the world sleeps…

  • Z

    Good luck, Leah!
    As it happens, I’m trying to get up earlier as well, although I’ve got the more modest goal of getting to bed by three am all this week.
    I hope you’re also giving yourself a pass on Christmas and New Year’s eve.
    Beeminder looks interesting, thanks for sharing it.

    • deiseach

      Fasting is relaxed on Sundays during Lent and on holy days of obligation, so the Advent fast ends on Christmas Eve night and since New Year’s Eve is the eve of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (formerly the Feast of the Circumcision/Holy Name of Jesus), Leah is not obligated to fast for Christmas and New Year’s 🙂

      Fasting and abstinence used to be tougher back in the day (she said, as she hobbled along on her cane to rest her old bones down and turned up her hearing aid) but the Orthodox make us look like hedonistic orgiasts when it comes to fasting, both in severity and frequency. Thank God for both lungs of the Church!

  • Richard

    You are doing fine, Lea. Steady as she goes.
    I keep track of my prayer life with a spreadsheet that I devised to help me track my faithfulness to my prayer observations. Oh, speaking of Lent, have you read Robert Herrick’s “To Keep a True Lent?”
    tomorrow morning I catch a plane to Chicago, where until Sunday, I will be getting up at 3 for Vigils at 3:30. I think the hardest part will be no internet access.

    *avuncular hug and forehead smooch

  • grok87

    Congratulations Leah on your first retreat! I haven’t been on one in a while- you are inspiring me to do one soon.

    I like your application of the centurion story to your own life situation. I have always loved that passage as well. And I do like the revised mass language that goes back to the word “roof” etc. the more concrete the metaphors, the better as far as I’m concerned.

    Here’s a recent passage from last week’s liturgy of the hours (from wednesday 11/28 office of readings) that is related to the centurion story i think, and has stayed with me for a while:

    Second reading
    From a homily attributed to Saint Macarius, bishop
    Woe to the soul that does not have Christ dwelling in it

    “When God was displeased with the Jews, he delivered Jerusalem to the enemy, and they were conquered by those who hated them; there were no more sacrifices or feasts. Likewise angered at a soul who had broken his commands, God handed it over to its enemies, who corrupted and totally dishonoured it. When a house has no master living in it, it becomes dark, vile and contemptible, choked with filth and disgusting refuse. So too is a soul which has lost its master, who once rejoiced there with his angels. This soul is darkened with sin, its desires are degraded, and it knows nothing but shame.

    Woe to the path that is not walked on, or along which the voices of men are not heard, for then it becomes the haunt of wild animals. Woe to the soul if the Lord does not walk within it to banish with his voice the spiritual beasts of sin. Woe to the house where no master dwells, to the field where no farmer works, to the pilotless ship, storm-tossed and sinking. Woe to the soul without Christ as its true pilot; drifting in the darkness, buffeted by the waves of passion, storm-tossed at the mercy of evil spirits, its end is destruction. Woe to the soul that does not have Christ to cultivate it with care to produce the good fruit of the Holy Spirit. Left to itself, it is choked with thorns and thistles; instead of fruit it produces only what is fit for burning. Woe to the soul that does not have Christ dwelling in it; deserted and foul with the filth of the passions, it becomes a haven for all the vices.

    When a farmer prepares to till the soil he must put on clothing and use tools that are suitable. So Christ, our heavenly king, came to till the soil of mankind devastated by sin. He assumed a body and, using the cross as his ploughshare, cultivated the barren soul of man. He removed the thorns and thistles which are the evil spirits and pulled up the weeds of sin. Into the fire he cast the straw of wickedness. And when he had ploughed the soul with the wood of the cross, he planted in it a most lovely garden of the Spirit, that could produce for its Lord and God the sweetest and most pleasant fruit of every kind.”

    By the way, I know you are trying to do Morning Prayer and perhaps Evening Prayer. And I’m frankly amazed at how much you are doing, for so recent a convert. But at the risk of adding even more, you might give the Office of readings a look once in a while. It’s a pretty good way to get a tour of scripture, books of the bible that one doesn’t often run into in Mass, etc. There are two readings each day, one from the old or new testament and the other from a non-biblical source such as the church fathers etc. The second reading is often the one I find the most intriguing.

    With best wishes for your advent journey,

  • LeRoi

    Way to give Beeminder a shout-out! It’s a great service – I’m relying on it to get me through finals. I hooked it up to RescueTime, which tracks my work productivity/efficiency. The two services are free, and I really like them. I’m also using Beeminder to track daily tasks and exercise – suddenly I’m getting stuff done, and exercising near-daily.

    By the way, your graph shows you’re totally about to go off the yellow brick road! Ruh-roh…

    • LeRoi

      I didn’t catch the pushups comment the first time. Your body will recover faster, and you’ll make more progress, if you do them every other day instead of every day. That’s what the exercise science says, and I’ve found it true in my (rather extensive) experience. I’d recommend substituting, say, squats (“the king of exercises”) for the even days, since that works an astounding number of muscles.
      Air Squat How-To

  • savvy


    I went to a silent retreat this week too, in New Jersey. It’s a great way to start advent.

  • Pete

    You know what?

    I feel a like a cad for criticizing you and saying things which I really
    have no business saying; I could have internalized them.

    You have put together a collection of reasons why you want to be
    Catholic, just as I did for about 15 years before I entered RCIA. I think
    you are such an interesting fellow nerdy type that I feel like I have
    broken the “geek code” by making an attempt to “troll”, which I am
    not good at really.

    I wish I could delete all my comments even though I still stand by
    what I said here and there…it was not the right place for them…

    I think you can see what comments I made and just delete them
    if you have time….(except this one)…there are less than a dozen.

  • deiseach

    It’s probably too early to be talking about New Year’s resolutions, but an Advent fast might be a good idea.

    I hereby resolve to fast from writing sentences that Henry James would have thought excessive in their length.

    (This comment brought to you courtesy of me reading a comment I left elsewhere and realising I had just written a paragraph-long single sentence).

  • jenesaispas

    Thankyou Leah and God! I was just about to go and find out a new way of getting myself to sleep, since my sleep habits are becoming somewhat appalling also and decided check up here. Forgive me if this sounds repetitive (I was saying the same thing last week) but its true!