Nov 30, 2009

Depression 2

Like I said, blogging helps, so I'm doing some more now to try to keep this upward trend going.

This morning I decided to get out and run for the first time in a over 2 weeks. I know exercise releases endorphins that help, and I'm using them. Running in the morning felt better. It's nice to see the buzz and activity of the neighborhood getting off to work. I also saw some birds flying around in the cold morning air; reminded me of:

"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." (Mt. 10:29-31)

My depression has revolved around thoughts of my own smallness and insignificance, and Jesus speaks straight at that. I just need to remember that, even though my part in the whole scheme of things may be small, God's will is still at work in it.

Nov 29, 2009


A week ago I was a depression skeptic - I thought people with "depression" were just grumpy or sad people who couldn't deal with life. Today I'm a believer; I feel like I'm getting just a taste of depression for the last few days. Not even real "clinical" depression - the debilitating kind that prevents someone from working or really doing anything. I'm just having a mild case of "postpartum" fatherhood anxiety - some "baby blues" maybe? Still, it's been enough to make me a believer. I'm feeling knots in my stomach, and in my soul - my spirit even. The experience has shattered any conceptions I had about distinctions between body, mind, and soul.

The thing about it is that there's no real reason for it? My baby is the perfect baby - she hardly cries, she's happy and healthy, she wakes up once per night, and even then mom usually takes care of her without even waking me up! My company recently made lay-off's, but my job is secure. (Though maybe I have some survivor's guilt?) We don't have any money troubles. There's been no recent death in the family or anything. But I'm still anxious for no reason. And I think this is a symptom? Feeling without reason? Or is that a symptom of womanhood? Maybe I'm turning into a woman. Frak.

As a former skeptic, I'm totally unprepared for what these feelings are doing to my faith. I know this depression is in my mind and body, but I can also feel it spilling over into my soul and spirit. I'm avoiding my daily office prayers, I'm avoiding even looking at crosses, crucifixes, and my other Catholic "bling." I don't think I'm losing faith, but there are certainly moments where I feel like it's hidden from me.

While reading Merton, I thought 'contemplation' could be my vocation. But in one of his chapters, Merton describes the path to contemplation as winding thru a desert with no clear evidence of a destination; rather accidental and occasional encounters with an "oasis" of God. I think I may have read just enough Merton to be dangerous - I intellectually wandered out into the desert without emotionally preparing for it. I'm suffering for it now.

If anyone reading this has real depression and especially if you've felt it creep into your spirit, I'll pray with you for God's healing to reach into that special place in your body, your mind, and your soul that needs to feel him so desperately.

Nov 19, 2009

Contemplating Merton

I almost can't believe I'm saying this, but I may have found a Christian writer who has supplanted C.S. Lewis as my all-time favorite! (And he's another Thomas, like my patron saint.)

He's Thomas Merton. He was actually a contemporary of C.S. Lewis, though I don't know if either ever wrote about the other. He was a Trappist monk, so his Order makes great beers too!

As with Lewis, I feel a strong connection to him after reading just one of his books - New Seeds of Contemplation. I think 'contemplation' is a vocation I could embrace; fueled by study and knowledge but also by prayer and meditation, but transcending it all. I've recently felt some tension inside myself between my academic studies and my spiritual livelihood. Getting back into a college curriculum has been great for my mind, but has also somewhat reset my attitude towards an (over-?)emphasis on intellectual activity. By contrast,

Contemplation is the highest expression of man's intellectual and spiritual life. ... a kind of spiritual vision to which both reason and faith aspire, by their very nature, because without it they must always remain incomplete. ...
Hence contemplation is more than a consideration of abstract truths about God, more even than affective meditation on the things we believe. It is awakening, enlightenment, and the amazing intuitive grasp by which love gains certitude of God's creative and dynamic intervention in our daily life. Hence contemplation does not simply 'find' a clear idea of God and confine Him within the limits of that idea, and hold Him there as a prisoner to Whom it can always return. On the contrary, contemplation is carried away by Him into His own realm, His own mystery and His own freedom. It is a pure and virginal knowledge, poor in concepts, poorer still in reasoning, but able, by its very poverty and purity, to follow the Word 'wherever He may go.'

Reading through this book is like seeing myself better than a reflection in a mirror. It's both familiar and strange - like when you see a picture of yourself and realize the part in your hair is actually on that other side and your smile slants to the right not the left. I'll have to buy my own copy (if the library hasn't already charged me for this one), and I'll probably refer to it more in blog posts like I do with Lewis quotes.

The above quote screams at me. In my RCIA and my academic studies, I notice myself falling into that trap of 'finding a clear idea of God and confining Him within the limits of that idea' - especially because my excellent teachers and academic studies are presenting me with so many good clear ideas! But my conversion started with that 'virginal knowledge' - a dry sponge soaking up anything and everything I saw God revealing. I was letting myself be 'carried away by Him into His own realm' - straight into the Catholic Church.

As I've lived in the Church, I've been developing convert syndrome, and I think it wasn't until I really got into the academics that I started noticing how far advanced I was in the "disease." Merton's writings are helping me restore some of that intellectual and spiritual poverty and purity that led me into my fuller faith in the first place, and for that I consider him every bit as important to me as Lewis.

Nov 17, 2009

Amos' Parade of Nations

The first part of Amos is a series of oracles against the nations surrounding Israel. My professor asked me this follow-up question on my previous post summarizing Amos: What is the significance of the geographical ordering of the nations mentioned in the prologue of Amos? I've been doing some research, but couldn't find any straight-forward answer in wikipedia's article on Amos, nor the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Amos, nor a lengthy commentary on Amos. So I'm going with my own crazy(?) idea ...

Amos first mentions Aram, a name also given to a grandson of Noah. He then mentions Gaza and Tyre. Next is Edom, a name also given to Esau - Jacob's twin brother. He finally mentions Ammon and Moab which are also names of descendants of Lot - Abraham's newphew. So, with the exception(?) of Gaza and Tyre, all of the nations Amos mentions are etiologically related to Israel. It makes for a powerful rhetoric to draw his audience into the saga and drama of their own "relatives." Or, it might just be a simple effect of writing the patriarchal history from the context of the lands and peoples of Palestine, if that's indeed what happened.

Another idea I couldn't verify from research is that the order of the nations may be the order in which Assyria conquered them? If that's the case, it would support the idea that Amos may have been a post-exilic writing. Although, Assyria conquered Israel before Judah.

Anyone else have an idea? I'm dying to know ...

Nov 9, 2009


I'm going to jump-start mixing blogging and theology by doing this week's Old Testament homework in a blog post. We're reading Amos, and tonight I'm specifically re-reading Amos to summarize three portions of Amos - his judgement of Israel, his three woes, and his vision. First a little context ...

Amos was not a professional prophet. He was a farmer from Judah in the south, called to prophecy in Israel in the north. He was active in the 8th century BC, probably around 760-745. All around Israel, Assyria was the world super-power - gaining land and tributaries all over Mesopotamia from Babylon to Syria. (I know, Assyria vs. Syria is confusing.) Amos preached when a "weak" king ruled Assyria, so Israel still enjoyed independence and prosperity and did not face immediate threat of invasion. As such, Israel (and Judah) fell into a listless lifestyle and culture that ignored or forgot Yahweh and the responsibilities of His covenant.

Into this, Amos starts his preaching in a formula on the evils of the other nations around them - Aram, Philistia, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, and Moab. "Thus says the LORD: For three crimes of _____, and for four, I will not revoke my word;" In the blank, he names the nation or its capital city. After this, he names specific evil of the nation - e.g., "Because they threshed Gilead with sledges of iron" or "Because they took captive whole groups to hand over to Edom" etc. He then pronounces the punishment of each in the form "I will ... (send fire, root them out, turn my hand against them, etc.)" You can almost hear the shouts of "Amen!" and "Preach it!" and "Glory to God!" from his audience like you might hear in a contemporary fiery sermon of judgement.

Then he throws a curve ball. He continues right on in the formula judging against Judah! Of course his audience is in Israel, so they probably gave some mild awkward applause for his judgment against Judah: "Because they spurned the law of the LORD, and did not keep his statutes; Because the lies which their fathers followed have led them astray." (2:4) Well sure - the Davidic monarchy was known to be in error, right? So of course Judah's fathers led them astray. Okay then, getting too close to home, probably about time to wrap it up, right?

Then he blows their minds; hammers into Israel with his most scathing judgement: "Because they sell the just man for silver, and the poor man for a pair of sandals. They trample the heads of the weak into the dust of the earth, and force the lowly out of the way. Son and father go to the same prostitute, profaning my holy name. Upon garments taken in pledge, they recline beside any altar; And the wine of those who have been fined they drink in the house of their god." (2:7-8) Ouch. Say what now?

The first major theme of Amos's judgement against Israel is perfectly summarized by our textbook: "He [Amos] connects the injustice he sees around him to a society bent on wealth and prosperity and forgetful of the true worship of God." Ouch again - sound familiar?

Secondly, Amos, like all the prophets, condemns Israel's idolatry to "any altar" - referring to the widespread worship of the gods of Canaan by the Israelites. This offense is compounded with mistreatment of the poor, who would give their cloaks as pledges to their creditors, who were supposed to return them before nightfall ("If you take your neighbor's cloak as a pledge, you shall return it to him before sunset; for this cloak of his is the only covering he has for his body. What else has he to sleep in? If he cries out to me, I will hear him; for I am compassionate." Ex 22:25-26, also Dt 24:12) Amos goes on to reiterate Yahweh's supremacy over Israel as opposed to other gods, and gives a strong premonition of military defeat.

Another major part of Amos's preaching are three woes. I had to look up the biblical meaning of 'woe' and I think it roughly means the opposite of blessings - i.e., disasters. Amos speaks a first woe - that Israel will not live in its houses nor drink of its vineyards because they "turn judgment to wormwood and cast justice to the ground." The second woe is, ironically, to those who long for "the day of the LORD" - Amos preaches it will be a day of darkness for Israel and not light, because Israel makes empty offerings and songs. For this, Amos preaches that Yahweh will "exile [them] beyond Damascus." Finally, Amos decrees the woe that a nation (Assyria) will oppress Israel for its complacency in trusting in its wealth and military might and not in Yahweh.

Amos also relates symbolic visions - threats and promises - to Israel. First a vision of locusts and then of fire (burning drought) destroying Israel, at each of which Amos intercedes for Israel and Yahweh repents of it. Then he has a vision of a plummet - specifically, of God using one to judge the uprightness of Israel. Against this Amos does not intercede. Amos also has a vision of a basket of ripe fruit, which I'll admit completely dumbfounds me as to its meaning. Finally, Amos has a vision of the destruction and total ruin of an altar and temple killing those inside; symbolizing that no-one escapes God's punishment.

That's all the homework I'll post for now. I also picked out three instances of three kinds of parallelism found in Amos, but that would take this post into Hebrew poetry which is way to deep to cover fairly. :)

Hitting the wall

Today I ran four miles. First time in years I've run more than three. Today I actually, finally, did some prayer while I ran. I think I need to do more of each and especially of both together.

I have to make a confession. I have already made a confession to a priest, and I want to make one here too. It's been going on for months - too many months. I've been too consumed by (my) theology and (my) life. It's wearing me out, I've hit the wall, I'm trying to get through it, and I'm hoping this post will help.

I've thought of myself before others.
I've considered myself better than others.
I've met others with skepticism.
I've engaged others with pretense.
I've thought judgment upon others.
I've spoken platitudes at others.
I've been insincere with others.
I've ignored the life of God in others.
I've ignored the love of God in others.
I've withheld myself from others.

I am sorry for these sins with all my heart. I have chosen to do wrong, and failed to do good. If I have made these sins against you, I ask your forgiveness. These sins have sneaked into me slowly, but they are real and clear - like worn stains under a full Light.

I'm assigning myself a personal penance - to resume the Daily Office. It's really amazing how much ten minutes of prayer twice a day can change the way I live and love.