Brooding – Best Left for Hens

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April 11, 2013 by lucieromarin

So, yesterday I took up my current pious reading (yes, I do read holy stuff!) and opened it upon a page which offered two pieces of advice.

The first piece of advice was, ‘Don’t waste your life recalling past mistakes.’ This held promise, until it became apparent that the author was referring to past sins, rather than to ordinary mistakes (such as trusting the wrong person, for example.) Thus, the consolation he offered (you’ve been forgiven and you can still be holy) wasn’t that consoling at all.

The second piece of advice was a reminder about the lilies of the field that neither toil nor spin, with a subsequent exhortation to free one’s self from worries about food, clothing and shelter. Well, this is Our Lord’s advice, so I’m hardly going to contradict it. However, I’d rather be reminded of it by someone other than an author whose religious vocation means that he doesn’t actually have any rent or bills to pay, and is guaranteed a home in his old age.

Nonetheless, I’ve discovered that to spend mental prayer resenting the material presented to you for meditation is unproductive, to say the least, so I returned to the first thought. The author might not have been discussing the particular mistakes I wanted advice about, but he was still correct in saying that one ought not to be a hostage to one’s past. So I sat for a bit, and I thought about this for a bit, and then the book fell into my lap with a soft thud, as I saw what I’d been missing when others counselled me against brooding.

Maybe it’s just me, but…I’d always thought of brooding as nothing more than a habit of sitting miserably upon a single miserable thought for too long – yet, whenever anyone said something to the effect of, ‘But if you brood, you cannnot move on,’ I just felt irritated, as though they should have understood it better than that.

See, the essence of brooding is not just to sit on something for a long time, but to sit on something for a long time expecting it to hatch. The brooder isn’t just attached to the memory or the habit of recalling it, but to the expectation of some kind of result; the memory-egg in question is supposed to break open and release a fluffy yellow chicken that staggers about the farmyard cheeping, “We’re so sorry! It was all our fault!” or some such thing. It’s not that the brooder doesn’t want to move on. It’s that he feels he can’t move on without those little chickens at his feet.

And, as I saw this, I thought, Oh, dear Lord. It’s never going to hatch.

The basic problem with brooding is this: if you’re not a hen, and the thing you’re sitting on is not an egg, then your brooding won’t get you a chicken. It’s not that we have to pretend we don’t want an apology, or closure, or some other kind of healing – no one says that memories need to be suppressed –  it’s just that this isn’t the way to get them. Worse, you could end up with all kinds of deformed hatchlings running all over your barn – not just the kind that make you need a doctor, but the kind that need treating with holy water and a priestly stole!

(And, no, deciding to horde the eggs until you get a chance to hurl them at the appropriate person is not a Christian alternative to brooding. No eggy vengeance!).

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