Confessions of a She-Geek

July 30, 2013

Spear Carrier #4

Filed under: Books,Faith and Religion — Teresa @ 11:29 pm
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When we were kids, one of my brothers and I got into a disagreement about Watership Down. I maintained that the hero of the story was  Hazel, the de-facto leader of a small band of rabbits who set off to start a new warren after theirs was destroyed. Hazel was smart, cool-headed in a crisis, brave, noble – all the things a hero should be.

My brother insisted the real hero was Hazel’s brother, Fiver. At the time, I thought my brother had a screw loose.

See, Fiver was not a leader; he was quiet, and preferred to stay in the background. Described as a runt, Fiver was also seen as strange, prone to making odd predictions that had an unnerving way of coming true. Hardly the sort to inspire a band of followers. But Hazel loved and trusted Fiver enough to take Fiver’s advice, which saved all of them time and time again. So, while Fiver was not leading the way himself, he was making it possible for Hazel to guide the group to safety.

Looking back, I can see that my brother had a point.

I found myself thinking of this while mulling over something that Teresa of Avila wrote in her autobiography. She discusses the importance of humility in prayer; recognizing that God knows far better than we do what we’re ready for spiritually, and not pushing the growth process. Growth will happen at the appropriate time.

She goes on to explain that humility is also a key factor in serving God, because not everyone is necessarily meant to accomplish great, impressive things. Some of us are meant to help others accomplish great, impressive things.

You know; like Fiver helped Hazel.

So what does this mean for us? What if it turns out that you’re not supposed to take a leading role? What if you’re supposed to be, say, Spear Carrier #4? Do you have the humility to serve God in the role that He assigned you, and to do it to the best of your ability?

Teresa put it this way: “If His Majesty is pleased to promote us to His household or Privy Council, we must go willingly…  God is more careful for us than we are for ourselves, and He knows what each of us is good for.”

While we may know logically that exceptional people are, well, exceptions, and that by definition most people are not, cannot be exceptional, applying this to ourselves can be a rather bitter pill to swallow. It flies in the face of everything this competition-based culture tells us. There are plenty of examples in movies, books, television, and so on. How many stories have we heard where the leading character is the best at what he (or she) does? Even if the protagonist is less than admirable in other ways, his (or her) skill is the redeeming factor, and a source of respect from others, however grudgingly it may be given.

Can we override this ingrained mythos in order to serve God in the manner that pleases Him best, not ourselves? Can we check our egos at the door and follow God’s lead, even if we’re led to someplace far different than we thought we’d be? More important, can we let go of the desire for recognition from others for service well-done?

There’s a saying that integrity is doing the right thing when no one’s looking. I think service may work in the same way. Spear Carrier #4 will probably never get awards for appearing onstage, but it’s the appearing onstage that matters, awards or no. Do it because it’s what God wants, Teresa says, regardless of what’s in it for us, and whether or not we can see the fruits of our labors.

I’ve been pondering this point. For a lot of people, prayer is a source of comfort; of strength. We pray to gain spiritual gifts. What Teresa says suggests that we should pray and serve God and look at the benefits to ourselves as icing on the cake. It’s the prayer and service that count; what pleasure we derive from it is beside the point, should not be expected every time, and should not be the primary motivator.

Then again, if you apply 20th-century psychology to this, intermittent reinforcement is the most effective way to foster persistence. Kinda like God understands the best way for someone to grow spiritually is through prayer and service, and that providing rewards from time to time (but not necessarily every time) will get someone to keep at it. That’s actually pretty sneaky. And effective.

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July 29, 2013

More Human Than Human

Filed under: Faith and Religion — Teresa @ 10:47 pm
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For the past several months I’ve been part of the small group that’s studying The Life of Saint Teresa of Ávila by Herself. More than an autobiography, this book is a reflection on the nature of prayer and what it really means to pray.

In chapter 22, Teresa muses on how scholars often advise ignoring Christ’s humanity and focusing only on his divinity when striving to deepen a connection to the Divine One. To her way of thinking, that’s fine if one has developed enough spiritually – but most people won’t ever reach that point. Teresa maintains that, for most people, spiritual growth must be rooted in Christ’s humanity because that’s what we can relate to and identify with. From there, one may develop to the point where the focus can shift to his divinity, but first the connection must be made.

As I pondered this, reflecting on Christ′s experience as a human being, what came to mind was how profoundly unfair it all was. Then I flashed on the Grandfather′s statement in The Princess Bride: ″Well, who said life was fair? Where is that written? Life isn′t always fair.″

It certainly wasn’t for Jesus Christ. He was punished for things other people did. He followed the rules and did his duty, and his reward for a job well done was humiliation, mockery, torture, and death. Now, I remember how bad it felt to be blamed for something one of my siblings did, when my punishment was being sent to my room. It′s hard to wrap my head around how much worse it was for him.

He must have known how terribly he′d hurt – the agony he′d be subjected to. No doubt Christ knew that ultimately he′d be fine (being divine and all), but that doesn′t negate his human suffering any more than making a full recovery from a catastrophic injury negates the pain of the recovery process. Jesus knew his future would be filled with pain – did he dread it? Anticipation of pain is its own special form of torture. For 33 years, he lived with the knowledge that his last hours would be a horrific ordeal. How was he able to deal with this foreknowledge and live his life without retreating into isolation and bitterness?

Was he ever angry about it? Did part of him resent his lot in life, but recognize it as an unpleasant necessity? Did he sink into depression, knowing that during his darkest time his friends would distance themselves and no comfort would be found? Was he heartbroken by his abandonment? When he looked down from the cross, exhausted, and saw his mother weeping at his feet, did he feel sorrow over her distress? Doesn’t get much more human than that.

Here’s my point: he gets it. He was a human being, with all that entails. He understands walking through dust. Feeling the sun beating down on your head. Being hungry, thirsty, and tired. He′s felt the betrayal of a dear friend. He laughed. He cried. He hugged and loved and had family and friends and through it all, he was wonderfully, undeniably human. Put simply, God knows the human experience firsthand.

Teresa explains that this shared experience makes it possible for us to connect to God in an authentic way, bonding over what we have in common. She describes it as a friendship; saying that ″when we are busy, or suffering persecutions or trials… Christ is our very good friend. We look at Him as a man, we see Him weak and in trouble, and He is our companion.″

I find this comforting, because it means that we have never been, and never will be, alone. Someone is there, and knows what you′re going through, and will not leave your side, no matter what. Sounds like the kind of friend we all could use.

Back in the Saddle Again…

Filed under: Faith and Religion — Teresa @ 10:41 pm
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It’s been a long, long time since I’ve posted anything to this blog – mainly because I didn’t have much to say. At least, not much that I thought anyone else would find all that interesting. But during that time I’d been struggling my way through a crisis of faith that eventually led me to a new church (Open Source – here’s the Facebook page) and an in-depth study of The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself.

For those who may not be familiar with her, Saint Teresa of Avila was a Carmelite nun in 16th-century Spain. She was, to say the least, a deeply spiritual woman with a knack for explaining complex, abstract theological concepts in surprisingly practical ways. Pressed by the head of her order into writing her autobiography, Teresa used it as an opportunity to discuss the nature of faith, prayer, and what it actually means to pray.

This book is not one to be rushed through, and does not contain any easy answers. It requires a great deal of thought, reflection, and personal examination. So I’ve been studying this book, and have found that half-formed thoughts which had previously wandered aimlessly through my mind, are finally making sense because Teresa of Avila articulates the concepts in a way that makes sense to me.

As part of my study, I’ve been journaling in order to pull some of these thoughts together. When during one of the book study discussions I shared some of what I’d written, my pastor asked me to turn two of my journal entries into short articles for future newsletters. Which brings me back to my blog. If I’m going to be writing articles based on journal entries, I already have the perfect place, all set up and ready to go. An added bonus is that entries can just be linked to, rather than re-printed in their entirety.

Now for the disclaimer. I do not claim to be a theologian or a biblical scholar. I have never attended seminary and frankly have no ambition to do so. I am not trying to present myself as an expert of any sort. All this will be is my thoughts about, and reactions to, this book that I’ve been reading (once an English major; always an English major). I’m fascinated by The Life of Saint Teresa and want to share some of what I’ve been learning.

If anyone finds any of these blog entries in any way beneficial, I’m glad. If they help generate interest in Teresa of Avila’s writings, even better.

If not, just keep in mind that this is (in the immortal words of The Dude) just, like, my opinion, man.

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