Sunny Days in Heaven
Spiritual/Political/Philosophical Blog on the Nature of Truth and Falsehood and Heaven

Thursday, April 22, 2004  

Churchy guys

James Lileks wrote last week:

Just took Gnat up to bed. We said our prayers. I'm not a churchy guy, but this is important. One daily nod to inscrutible divine. My wife usually puts her down, and they recount the day and say what they?re grateful for.

I used to be a churchy guy. After I became Roman Catholic I attended daily Mass for over a year, and went to confession as often as I thought I needed to for the slightest infraction. There wasn't a decision major or minor in which I didn't seem to have to consult God and Jesus about, a thought on faith in which I wasn't appealing to the Holy Spirit for divine inspiration.

I also devoted myself to prayer advancing from the Rosary to Contemplation.

During that time I did not consider myself less than masculine although I worked on being less competitive and egotistical. But there was also one other thing which I tried to practice devoutly - self-censorship.

When I hear fellows like Lileks impugn being "churchy" by way of hurrying to assure us they aren't, I have to shake my head.

What they really seem to be saying is that they're not really into self-censorship; that is, not the kind that desire for righteousness demands. James wants to continue to be as "humorous", sarcastic, caustic, vulgar, or lascivious as it occurs to him to be. He doesn't want to have to censor his thoughts or second guess their expression. After all, expression is his stock in trade, and we all know that churchy people are humorless prudes, puritans, and hypocrits.

The poet, Shelley, once wrote that there is no laughter in Heaven; and William Blake insisted that he hated "teasing" and teasers.

There is laughter in Heaven, but only if there are other animals and children, for the things that they do and children say by virtue of incongruity can be hilarious. Also, puns, play on words, clever rhymes, riddles, or other word games can be highly amusing.

What there won't be are jokes, pranks, teasing, or "kidding" around. Why? Because the root of those things is malice which would be unwelcome in eternity.

What James and many other believers echo is St. Augustine's prayer, "Lord, make me holy, but just not yet."

They believe in God, maybe even in Jesus. They expect themselves to be moral, honest dealing, and fair minded. They can be gentlemen, competitors, or warriors if need be, but what they can't bring themselves to is abject humility and surrender to God. They do not wish to observe their baseness and depravity, or see themselves as creeps. Others, yes, but not themselves.

They have moments of unabashed poignancy and sincere gratitude which seems like profound self-deprecation because their sympathetic feeling is strong, the emotion encompassing; but an interesting feature of humility is that it is affectless. It has no emotion. The right hand doesn't know what the left is doing. It's a reflexive quality or unconscious attitude toward others and God. It never feels "on" because it has been on for so long that it no longer is a feeling at all.

But the only way for people to become humble like that is to follow Jesus' advice and pray constantly; to immerse yourself in the Bible, and to know just what it is you've been saved from or saved for.

A lot of that is also the constant recalling of former sins. The way to humility is, furthermore, extremely painful. It is not only humiliating, but often dry. Some call it the Desert experience, but it can also be said to be a desertion as the 22 Psalm wails, My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

The amazing thing is that you can undergo all of these things and still remain a good husband, father, and employee. For God, anything is possible.

posted by Mark Butterworth | 4:37 PM |