Well we’re here in the first full week of fall and what a summer I had this year. I did not teach, or do a whole lot of academic research (though I squeezed some in before the current semester started). I did not read very much, though I tried to a few times. The books I picked out for the summer went mostly unread. I did do a couple of things that ultimately became very important to me that were motivated by my faith. I went to Mass every Sunday all summer, and am still going. I went to Confession a couple times. I learned the Rosary, and have been praying it before Mass. I deepened my appreciate for the Book of Psalms. And, recently, I have had a sort of spiritual insight which I see as one of the fruits of all that activity.
What came together for me at the start of the summer was urgent spiritual necessity and a long-standing desire to participate more in the rituals of my church. I was worn out. The reasons don’t really matter. In a word, work. I don’t think the fatigue I get myself into is the most common experience. The level I reached this year was similar to that of 2011, after my first year of graduate school, in which lots of other things had happened that aren’t really important for this post either. Happily, I don’t see on the horizon, in terms of the track my life is on, things getting so exhausting again, maybe ever. But this year I definitely needed a jump start, some way to reset the whole system: mind, spirit, body, desire, everything.
I didn’t have a plan for how to deal with any of this, so I embarrassingly started with alcohol. I think the excess there helped crystallize in my head the need to escape that and find something more sustainable. Somehow I came up with the idea of fasting, so I started fasting on Wednesdays every week for maybe 4-6 weeks. My experience with it was incredible. Everything was better the days following a fast: mood, mental strength, enjoyment of life, the sense of chemical balance in the body. I discovered when I didn’t drink any coffee, I could nap in the afternoon, and the naps were awesome. I also started running a couple times a week, which left me initially with really enflamed ankles and knees but eventually that got better, too. I went to my first annual medical check-up in 7 or 8 years during all this. I explained to the doctor that I was having terrible allergies, that I was drinking too much, and I was fasting weekly. The good doctor recommended nasal spray for the allergies, a multi-vitamin for the drinking, and ignored the part about the fasting. Things just got better and better on all of this stuff. There were challenges too, family responsibilities, marriage, parenthood. Those continued, but my underlying foundation was strengthening, and my family strongly and steadfastly supported all of this.
And I got a lot healthier. That strength helped me keep going to Mass. After never going, or only now and then, now I can’t imagine passing up on the opportunity like that. Before, it always drained me, and I didn’t understand why I was there. I didn’t understand why others were there, except that they had either been habituated into it since childhood or felt compelled to go there out of whatever the particular thoughts are that go through your head when you get older. Or they were dragged there by their significant other. It helped me to visit the church alone, and to visit when no one was around. To sit there in the quiet, empty space, and to feel the desire to experience the god of this church. To feel alone, and a little lonely. To think about how different it is when all the people are there for Mass, and how peculiar it is that they do come. And how less lonely it is, and comforting to be surrounded by people that at a very minimum approve of your desire to grow spiritually through prayer, worship, and the sacraments.
The spiritual insight I recently had, and I’ll finish with this, is that if god exists, then he is unavoidably what its all about. The logic of faith is so much stronger in that direction than my mind ever allowed itself to realize. Its a view that I think helps me understand a lot of the characters in the Bible, and a lot of the stories of religious martyrs and saints. They had that insight, and it changed their hearts. I mean, how could they, being who they were, not believe that? Yet this god is only reachable through prayer, and often appears irrelevant. Is that humility?