It’s been a minute…
A couple of months ago I walked away from this space for reasons I knew and didn’t know. At the beginning of June there was a lot of noise in my life. Some important conversations happened, there were some serious choices Amanda and needed to discern through, work was insane and I was going through what felt like a depression for a good number of months. Not the sad, melancholy type of depression but the feeling that you are stuck in a thick fog and everything is grey type of depression. I didn’t care about a whole lot and wasn’t excited about much either. These were two dynamics that killed my energy, motivation and imagination when writing my thesis. That’s not to say that life was bad (quite the opposite, really) - it was all just grey and there were some things that needed my undivided focus for a minute and the internet became a distraction/escape for me. So, with the exception of a couple of guest submissions for friend’s blogs I stopped writing on the internet and I largely backed away from the circus that is social networking. Keeping in touch with friends and family is one thing. Posturing myself on the internet like I have something interesting to say is quite another and my own absurdity become more and more relevant as I kept writing for the sake of saying something. More on that later but I wanted to return to and revive the contemplative dynamic of my spirituality from which my passion for life really flows.
There were some tangibles that I wanted to see at the end of this break. One, to develop Sabbath as a spiritual discipline. There other was to add (good) words to my thesis.
Learning to Sabbath…
I think the single greatest challenge when building a sabbath day into my schedule is the immediately obvious fact that I now have six days to accomplish what I would normally do in seven. I was surprised at how significant of a change that was to how I need to organize/manage my time. Simply blocking that day (typically Sunday) out on my google calendar affected everything from how/when I will get x,y,z tasks (or chores) done to forcing me to be more intentional with the time I have with my wife, roommates, co-workers and new people that have come into my life. I became keenly aware about how much time I actually waste in my day. Or, perhaps more charitably, as the time I had in the week became less it became more valuable to me and I constantly caught myself doing meaningless (to me) things with that time (ie. taking hours to configure my new phone until it was “just right”). The last “lesson” that I’ve “learned” from having only six days to work was the importance of both silence/listening to the other and minimize the amount of conversation about nothing in particular. Small talk is nice from time to time but its easy to stay in the safer waters in our relationships than it is to have intentional conversations about the hard stuff. I put “learned” in quotes here because ther isn’t a point of arrival on this. Living in community – not too unlike marriage here – is an ongoing process of learning how to swim in the deeper waters.
If anyone out there in the internet is reading this and thinking about how nice it would be to build a sabbath day into their schedule I suggest these five starting points….
1. Be legalistic about it. Seriously, decide when your Sabbath day is going to be and protect those boundaries. I promise you, as soon as you write it into your calendar there will be something or someone that will (unknowingly) try to stake a claim on that time.
2. To contradict #1 - make your stand with careful discernment by remembering Jesus’ words on the subject. Most problems that come up can wait 24 hours but they all need to be considered before making that call. There are legitimate emergencies that will need your time and attention. In a different, but apropos, vein – on a couple of occasions I found that I didn’t manage my time well that week and I needed to take a couple of hours on Sunday to do what I told someone I would have done by that Friday. It’s not fair to pull the Sabbath Card if you were irresponsible during the other six days.
3. Plan ahead on what you’re going to do that day. Recalling the nature of the Sabbath from my last post, the purpose of the Sabbath is further become the people we are called to be by setting aside this time to intentionally do those things that give us life. Theologically, the things that allow us to participate with the trinitarian communion of God. For me that means reading/writing, watching a movie with Amanda, hanging out at this coffee shop or even taking a nap. For my roommates it means going on a 25 mile bicycle ride with some friends. Whatever those things are – and typically they are the things you always wish you could get to but “just don’t have the time” – intentionally plan when and how you are going to do those things during that day. Don’t just wing it.
4. Change the way you might think about a Sabbath Day. It’s easy to write this time off as a luxury (and perhaps it is) and you just don’t budget for in our schedules. One, time isn’t a currency (something to be spent) or a commodity (something with a price tag). Time is a dimension to inhabit and how we organize our time determines our priorities. The most tangible example in this city is how our calendars evolve around Mardi Gras while other financial capitals (perhaps New York? I don’t know a good analogy) are keenly aware of financial quarters and fiscal years. As a kid my entire year was determined by my school’s calendar and my “job” was to get an education. What would our lives be like if we inhabited our time for the purpose of becoming the people God has called us to become?
The other paradigm I needed to shift from was thinking about the Sabbath as less of a luxury and more as preventative maintenance. As I mentioned earlier. I thought I was depressed, really depressed. A few days after I wrote my last post I went up to the Abbey for give days of performing the Mass, silence and working on my thesis. I arrived and slept for the first two and a half days (with the exception of Mass and meals). When I woke up the fog was gone and I felt refreshed. It turned out that I was just exhausted. It was a sort of tired that seeped into my bones and I knew I was flirting with burnout. Intentionally creating times for rest in my week makes me less tired in the week. Not that there aren’t any long weeks but the ways my soul is revitalized during the Sabbath has created a more sustainable rhythm of life. It also makes going on retreats more fruitful as I am not going to have to sleep for the first few days to just “catch up”. Finally, Sabbath isn’t going to be effective if it’s something you do only when you have the time for. It is a way of life, a habit to create by intentionally making the same choice to rest over and over again. You will only have the time when you make it.
5. The same rules apply for any new habit you aquire. If you don’t take that day for one, two or three weeks make the decision to start all over again. Taking a Sabbath once a month in better than not at all. The task is building consistency so set realistic goals and go from there.
How the thesis is going…
It’s going well. This summer I gained clarity on a whole lot and I can really attest to the efficacy of the “Flowers Paradigm” I mentioned last time. It has done wonders with keeping me on task and loosening up when the blinky cursor on a blank white page can really get to me. My hope is to finish this Fall so I can take a good year or so off before doing any sort of PhD work.
Discovering why I really left…
When I chose to stop blogging some of the reasons were obvious to me but there were others that I really haven’t realized until this past month. I may sound a bit disingenuous to share this on a public webpage but I want to take a moment to be transparent about myself and my motives for writing. I hope to not at all coming off like I am offering some sort of commentary on the blogging communities I am a part of. This is all about me here.
Basically, I realized that I was writing for attention. I wanted people to notice me and to have a following. Honestly, it makes me feel good when people I’ve never met (who aren’t bots) start following me on twitter. It gives me a little bit of a thrill when my “most views in a day” that wordpress is so kind to put on my dashboard is surpassed with the latest post that I put up. So what’s the next edgy thing I can put up to get even more people to like me? That question I actually asked myself more times that I’m comfortable with – but the attention is flattering and it helps to grow my ego. I realized that I was writing to get people to like me and that is dangerous territory for me.
I also have watched some of my friends transform their corners of the internet into spots that got mentioned on more prominent blog pages. There is a whole culture online of (for lack of a better label) post-evangelicals writing some very good things out there. Some have coalesced into virtual communities where people I know personally all of a sudden started writing for. More accurately, something they had written on their page got picked up by some of these communities which then evolved into writing directly for them on a semi-regular basis. I’m thrilled for them! I think they are wonderful facilitators for theological and cultural conversations that would happen whether or not they were a part of these communities. I believe it is a good thing they are in those roles. I have felt no jealousy nor did I covet the attention my friends got. But I did want to get mentioned too. I wanted to be noticed and be adopted into these communities. The painful truth I eventually encountered was that I didn’t belong in these communities that my friends did. My theology isn’t Reformed Protestant – regardless of how fluent I am in those traditions my Catholicism gets in the way. My thinking/writing is “too theological”, too long and I couldn’t ever seem to capture the right kind of “nuance” that editors were looking for. Again, my intention is to not critique someone else or entire communities. There are wonderful conversations that are happening. I’ve been happy to follow along and to chime in when someone doesn’t say what I’m thinking first. My intention is to share what I let writing become. Rather than it being a craft that I am trying to get better at I let the whole process hurt me when I started to believe there was something wrong with me. I found myself trying to make my voice look and sound like others I love and respect rather than confidently develop my own. The pursuit of getting noticed was damaging to me and it most of all affected how/what I wrote for my thesis because it shattered my confidence.
Although I couldn’t articulate all of this back in June I now know why I always had a sinking feeling in my stomach or experienced anxiety when starting to write. This self-awareness is good but I also need to restructure why I maintain this blog.
Why I write…
I mentioned it before – to get better at this craft. Some people cook, some people play musical instruments and I write. I want writing to become more than a hobby but I’m confident that will happen in time (ie. a post-doctorate reality). As for an audience, that too will come. Probably in the form of college students who struggle to understand the relevancy of their intro to philosophy class has on “real life” but its an audience none-the-less. In the mean time I will continue to keep writing and sharing on here without (hopefully) boring or offending people too much.
I’ve got some ideas on what that might look like over the next few months. I haven’t forgotten my project to work through the Rule of Saint Benedict. Along with that I will also probably start sharing some thoughts from a book Communitas is reading together (my fourth time through this particular work) called The Celtic Way of Evangelism. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? It’s a little quirky but offers some good ideas for urban ministry types who wouldn’t mind a little direction on encountering a post-christian city. I also want to review a couple of books that I’ve recently read/still reading: James K.A. Smith’s Imagining the Kingdom and John P. Clark’s The Impossible Community: Realizing Communitarian Anarchism.
All stuff I’m sure I am looking forward to more than those who find their way to this site. TL;DR? Yeah, I can’t say that I blame you.