June 1, 2013 by lucieromarin
A reader has preempted the next topic! In a comment upon ‘Career…Security…What to Hope For?’ this reader has noted, “Personally I’d remove myself, at least in the short term, from the whole parish-involvement setting, which sounds extremely destructive, but I can see that’s not how you want to go about it.”
Well…a flyer for (ahem) a Craft and Quilt Fair arrived in my mailbox about a week ago, which means that it is now one year since I tried this very thing, and can write, happily, that where you feel burnout, anger, disappointment, confusion and betrayal, or where you see its effects in one of your friends, the best prescription is not more prayer or study, not to question the truths which, by their very brightness, drew you (or the other person) into this commitment in the first place, and there’s certainly no need to freak out. No one needs any immediate, dramatic, life-altering reversal of behaviour…the best remedy for this particular challenge is… a holiday.
Of course, I should have known that already. Many years ago, my spiritual director told me that I was not getting enough crazy fun, and told me to take a Saturday off chapel duties in pursuit of it.
“What?!” I exclaimed. “But it’s a First Saturday! Choir! Cleaning! Commitment!” etc etc.
“No,” he said. “Crazy fun.”
So I took some. I eschewed duty for one First Saturday, and took (second ahem) a one-day spinning-and-weaving course. (“That’s your crazy fun?” Father Director exclaimed when I told him. Later, he was later forced to look impressed by my proud display of a piece of weaving about the length of a finger. “What is that?” “It’s weaving!” “Okay…so… it was fun?” “It was great fun!” With a half-smile, “So, was I right?” “You were so right!”).
I suppose the lesson remained in mind somewhere, and, last year, when I realised that a) I needed to get away from everything for a while, and b) I could not afford to go to New York, I spoke to a good priest about taking ten weeks off most of my usual commitments and using that time both to explore other parishes and other kinds of crazy fun. It was great! I became a traveller in my own city, and for ten weeks, took myself away from my community, and into other parishes and other settings for crazy fun – exploring streets and suburbs, cafes and bakeries, parks, libraries and museums, and all those places that I normally don’t see, because between a bajillion Masses and other pious activities per week, all I usually see is the same peeling square of choir-room wall.
Okay, the point of this post is not to suggest that everyone needs to do dorky stuff (and I freely admit that quilt shows, bakeries and museums make for a giant dork-identity) but to say that the experience taught me several things:
1) Getting away from a place that’s driving you mad can, paradoxically, increase your love for the goods that drew you there in the first place. I heard some really bad music while I was away – really, really bad. And travelling to Mass was a hassle. I relearned what a privilege it is to be able to able to worship God with beauty, just around the corner from my home.
2) It was also wonderful to relearn the basic truth that God is everywhere; He really is. A commitment to a place you love best is good; it means you’ve found a home. To be unable to commit to one place is sad, for it means you lack the stability which is the foundation of any serious spiritual life. However, to be actually afraid of Anywhere-but-Here, to be incapable of being Anywhere-but-Here doesn’t mean you’ve found a home. It means either that you’ve found a cult, or that you’re treating your community as though it is a cult.
A holiday refreshes your perception both of community and of the world outside it. What you want is to feel that your community life increases your friendship with God. This is what a parish is for. What you don’t want is to feel that God and your community are almost one-and-the-same. This is what a cult is for.
3) A holiday frees you from both over- and under-commitment. It enables you to preserve the essential stability of life that you want, while also ensuring that your commitments don’t become cultic, draining, or otherwise destructive.
A holiday frees you from the burdens of community, while enabling you to preserve its blessings. It no longer matters if the Cool Group doesn’t speak to you, because you’ve seen how much world there is outside of the Cool Group. Outside her tiny sphere of influence, Crazy Maiden is nobody. A reminder that no one else on the planet knows who she is frees you from her; she can be nobody to you, too. Ditto for Enthused Fundraiser, Male Bully, Wailing Diva, and all those other personages whose intolerable-to-you behaviour has taught you how holy you aren’t yet. They’re not evil. They’re just not meant to be the only people you see every week.
4) A holiday also gives the back of your mind the opportunity to sort out your personal priorities without feeling beholden to other people’s opinion.
If you want to try this, or to suggest it to someone else, I’d bear in mind the following:
1) If you have a spiritual director, or some sort of authoritative go-to priest for big life issues, tell him about your plan, get his blessing for it, and give him a report about it part-way through.
2) Unless you’re really exhausted, it’s not an excuse for a ten-week sleep-in and dvd-fest. Yes, there’ll be a bit of time for that, but make sure you’re actually trying things you’ve secretly always wanted to try, but which have always seemed just out of reach. (I don’t mean sinful things!). Everyone, in addition to their great dreams, have minor dreams: places they’d go if, or recipes they try if, or a class they’d take if. Write out this list of minor dreams, and fulfill some of them.
3) Reduce the spiritual programme, but don’t give it up altogether. Weekly Mass, and daily Rosary and mental prayer are fine. If you want to do more weekday Masses, incorporate them into the programme of discovery; going to hear your Cathedral’s amazing choir, for example, or visiting churches other than your own as part of exploring-suburbs-on-foot.
And, when you return from your break, don’t be surprised if someone sees you, does a double-take, narrows his eyes, and says, “Well you’re looking well!”