living in the middle with a need for contrition

“There are in truth three states of the converted: the beginning, the middle, and the perfection.
In the beginning, they experience the charms of sweetness; in the middle the contests of temptation;
and in the end the fullness of perfection.”

Pope St. Gregory the Great


(butterflys eating at the butterfly house at Callaway Gardens / Julie Cook)

“For want of contrition, innumerable Confessions are either sacrilegious or invalid;
the penitent so often breaks his promises to God,
and falls again so easily into the same faults,
and many souls are eternally lost.

Contrition is that true and lively sorrow which the soul has for all the sins it has committed,
with a firm determination never to commit them any more…

Many Christians spend a long time in examining their consciences,
and in making long and often unnecessary narrations to the confessor,
and then bestow little or no time upon considering the malice of their sins,
and upon bewailing and detesting them.
Christians such as these, says St. Gregory, act like a wounded man who shows his wounds to the doctor
with the utmost anxiety and care, and then will not make use of the remedies prescribed.
It is not so much thinking, nor so much speaking of your sins that will procure their pardon,
but heartfelt sorrow and detestation of them.”

Fr. Ignatius of the Side of Jesus, p. 289
An Excerpt From
The School of Jesus Crucified

measuring

The measure of a life,
after all,
is not its duration,
but its donation.

Corrie Ten Boom

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(everything is so early this year—blooming cherry trees and the visiting honey bees/
Julie Cook / 2017)

We are a measuring people…
we just seem to love to measure…
It’s as if we’ve been measuring ever since the dawn of Creation.

We measure everything….
space,
time,
distance,
amounts,
gains,
averages,
percentages,
odds,
growth…

Just as we measure…
decline,
decrease,
failure,
depletion,
shrinkage,
loss,
and demise…

We measure both life and death…as well as the distance separating the two.

This whole concept of numbers, benchmarks, averages and time seems to be of the
utmost importance to us.
Measuring allows us the satisfaction of knowing if we’ve actually been successful,
having accomplished a certain task, goal or desire.
It also gives us some sense, some idea, as to how far we still need to go in order to
reach a set goal, desire or postion.

Measuring and its results makes us feel in control.

And it is certainly paramount when considering such endeavors such as construction,
tailoring, manufacturing, producing, building, mending…
It is in such that both precision and measurement walk hand in hand.
Meaning… we can’t have one without the other.
Anything other then precise leads to skewed, crooked, awkward, flawed
as well as imperfection…
as we’ve learned to equate measurement with both precision and perfection…
as well as with safety.

Yet no matter how precise we try to be, no matter how perfect, how accurate…
we continue making mistakes.
And our mistakes can have catastrophic results…
leaving us not in the place we prefer…
that of being knowledgable and in control…
but rather…
we find ourselves as helpless victims of our own failures and errors.
Wishing to hide, lest anyone know it was upon our mistake of flawed measuring
which resulted in disaster….

Yet we simply, and often flippantly, chalk that up to human nature…
for we are indeed an imperfect lot…
despite our best attempts to measure…along with precision, perfection,
accuracy and control…
we misread, mismeasure and miscalculate…

Yet in our busyness of measuring, we have become accustomed to measuring
not only the abstract…
but we are very comfortable measuring ourselves…
We measure our self worth and our sense of well being…
With our benchmark being anything and everyone other than ourselves…

We constantly gauge our level of satisfaction by how others measure up to us and
how we measure up to others…

Are we happier than…
Are we more successful than…
Are we better off than…
Are we more financially secure than…
Are we healthier than…
Are we prettier than…
Are we thinner than…
Are we younger looking than…
Are we more comfortable than…
Are we further along than…
Are we more popular than…

Our question must therefore remain…what is it that we measure?
And what shall we be measured by…

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you:
Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought,
but rather think of yourself with sober judgment,
in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.

Romans 12:3

‘You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measurement of weight, or capacity.
‘You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin;
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt.

Leviticus 19:35-36
(ephah: a Hebrew dry measurement / hin: a Hebrew liquid measurement)

Blemishes and flaws

In nature there is no blemish but the mind: none can be called deformed but the unkind”
William Shakespeare

“In other men we faults can spy,
And blame the mote that dims their eye;
Each little speck and blemish find;
To our own stronger errors blind.”

Benjamin Franklin

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(white hydrangeas / Julie Cook / 2015)

When did we decide that perfection, the flawless, the blemish free was the goal?
When did we convince ourselves that only the unspoiled, the unsullied, the sparkling and the immaculate were to be the prize, the treasure, the quest?

When did we decide to pour our finances into recreating a nose, teeth, a chin, cheeks, breasts, hips, stomachs, backsides, eyes, hair. . .
When did we decide we needed to look like “them” in order to be beautiful, accepted, better?

When did we decide we didn’t like our face, our body, our minds, our souls. . .
We decided we needed to take action. . .we built up those whose appearances seems to have achieved perfection and we, no matter the cost, the expense, the stupidity, wanting it too, have decided to risk everything for the flawless and the blemish free. . .
We won’t be satisfied until we too are one of the beautiful people.
No matter sacrifice or cost, pain or suffering. . .

When did we look in a mirror comparing what looked back to the magazine covers, the television shows, the movies? Deciding we just didn’t like what we saw. . . too big, too small, not round, too square, too heavy, too scrawny, too long, too short, too pale, too dark. . .

Flawless and blemish free. . .
Who set the mark for beauty and who has perpetuated the lie. . .

You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.
Song of Solomon 4:7

O make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
Ephesians 5:26-28

The difference between us and the trees is not just the nuts.

“And then Jonah heard God’s voice.
“Jonah, do you know what the difference is between you and the trees?”
He was confident it was God because God usually asked questions but gave no answers. Jonah didn’t need a divine answer to this question, he knew it.
“Yes,” he said. “The difference between me and the trees is that the trees let go of their leaves. I keep holding onto mine. The trees make room for new life. I don’t.”

― David W. Jones, Going Nuts!

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I absolutely love this little quote. I found it while looking around for a new insightful but lighthearted new read—this time of year, my mind oddly turns to mush with the body merely waiting to follow suit. Which just might have something to do with the endless jaunts to this store and of the endless searches for a parking space that is within a mile of the door to the store—even parking at the grocery store seems to be along the lines of Mission Impossible. Let’s not discuss traffic shall we, as it seems to only intensify during this time of year–the roads full of panicy idiotic shoppers. There just seems to be a heightened sense of anxiety out on the streets.

Madness is all about this time of year as people seem to have lost all sense and sensibility. Why is it that we spend almost a year’s salary in all of about 2 weeks–buying “gifts” for everyone we seem to know, doubting our original choices, only to dash out again, adding to the burgeoning sacks of the “perfect” gifts squirreled away as they await the ceremonial wrapping? And why is it that we spend hours (mothers and sales folks) laboriously encasing said gifts in yards and yards of colorful papers, struggling with ribbons, tape and bows just to have that artistic hard work torn off in mere seconds—why is that?

Why is it that we will get out of our car, in the middle of the mall’s parking lot, in order to drag the driver of an opposing car out by their collar, in order to beat them silly as they dared to “take” the parking spot we had been eyeing for the past 40 minutes as we circled the parking lot like a buzzard?! Why is it that just as we reach for the perfect size of the perfect sweater, which is the only one left on the hanger in that perfect size and color, it is suddenly pulled away by a little old lady who shoots a look as if to say “I’ll beat the crap out of you if you don’t let go”—

The madness has even filtered here to the bastion of civility, my house, my home. As I was making my 15th trip from the attic last weekend, carrying musty treasure box upon box, ladened with the Christmases of ages past, I ask out loud, for no one in particular to hear but me, “Are we having fun yet?”
I answered.
What is it they say about talking to one’s self??!!
It’s ok until you start to answer. . . hummmmmm. . . .trouble may be brewing. . . and by the way, “NO” was the answer.

Five of the dearest people in my life have birthdays within the next week, with the last one falling actually on Christmas day itself—My son, his fiancé (what are those odds?!), my godmother, my godfather and my stepmother. So not only will I be buying the perfect Christmas gifts, I will be buying the perfect Birthday gifts as I prepare 3 perfect birthday meals complete with 3 perfect individual cakes.

But what type of cakes. . .hummm. . . Rum cake sounds fun—might as well make something “medicinal”—a little for me, a little for the cake, a little more for me a little less for the cake—wasn’t this a full bottle of rum? Suddenly the room is spinning. . . maybe chocolate will be a safer bet.

I’ve always been bad to put pressure on myself to make things “magical” for those I love while, in the process, killing myself. Last year I thought it would be so magically special to order our son some little Austrian doozie of a cake–the picture just looked so pretty.
“Didn’t you like your cake, you hardly touched it?”
“Mother, you know I just like your cakes, this one is way too rich”
Oh well. . .so much for special and perfect.
Why is it that I feel the need to make each occasion so very special I wonder? I realize I don’t delegate, I never have been very good at that. I tend to hold on to the whole kit and kaboodle—only to wonder why it is that what I’ve done is simply nothing like the picture of perfectness as seen in the image of the magazine or book—and lets not talk about things like Pintrest that has all the younger generation attempting their hands at magical. . .

Maybe I need to blame the Diva of Domestic Goddess Bliss. Miss Perfect of the house and home. Her magazines, television shows, her guest appearances on the morning news shows—she’s everywhere, along with her perfect self and perfectly beautiful condescending smile. Her coif perfectly stationary as she shovels the sh*# from the stalls of her thoroughbred stallions, while wearing her $500 Le Chameau muck lucks and beautiful name brand barn jacket and jodhpurs making even the shoveling of the s#*t appear to be a fine and manageable art (you are now hearing the heavy sigh of resignation). . .

As we now enter the long shadows of yet another year, may we all remember the true reason for our madness ( I do think love is really hidden in there somewhere)— May we lay the stress and the odd need to be able to “do it all and to do it all right now for everyone” down at the base of the tree, the makeshift altar of a season that has unfortunately spun out of control. May we learn what the trees seem to know better than we do, that the letting go of the old, in order to make way for the new, is sometimes more important than holding on to things and traditions merely for the sake of “because it’s always been done like that.” Change can be good and new traditions can be just as special as those long entrenched memories.

Those beautiful autumn colored leaves eventually turn brown, sadly falling away from the trees. . . but come Spring. . .the tender new bright green shoots are such a welcomed delight. Some things must “go” in order to make way for the new—despite our stubborn clinging and holding onto–children grow up and lives change—it’s not the perfection that everyone will remember but rather, it is simply the magic of being together–the laughter, the hugs, the conversations, the smiles on the faces as contentment creeps in from just the mere fact that we are together again. . .

May you all enjoy spending time, over the next couple of weeks, with those in your lives who matter the most to you. Forget the perfection of cleaned houses, beautifully wrapped gifts and magazine worthy food, just enjoy the moments of love and fellowship of your family and friends. Happy Holidays. . .now where is that recipe for that rum cake. . .