Monday, February 28, 2011

A road I know not.

I've been struggling with this post for a long time. How much can I talk about suffering without whining or complaining? How can I describe pain without fishing for pity? And this space has become something I never imagined it would be: So much about wounds, so little about philosophy.

But pain is a good school for the philosophical. If Caryll is right, only the sick are really living. And if Plato is right, then philosophers "are doing no more nor less than to prepare themselves for the moment of dying." In our dying we are coming to life: philosophy.

As the back issues have started to lift, we've faced the reality that underneath the physical pain I have a robust case of postpartum depression, coupled with severe sleep trauma. Even though the baby is sleeping well now, I can't. And in those dark hours, as all moms know, dark thoughts tend to crowd in.

It's hard for an introvert, who lives in her head, to recognize that there's really something physically wrong in her brain. I've always articulated worthwhile, meaningful pain and suffering in terms of the soul. Feelings of being alone or depressed were, I assumed, spiritual problems. Either I needed some absolution or to kick a sinful habit.

Or maybe I was heading down that holiest of paths, the "dark night of the soul." I must getting holy! Like Mother Teresa holy. And St. Therese and Father Damian holy. They were so holy that they suffered spiritually. They weren't clinically depressed, I thought, because they were obviously so close to God. They didn't have Zoloft, but they didn't need Zoloft! They had real faith.

But it turns out that, in the recesses of my mothering brain, some tiny little cells called neurons are misfiring, or not firing at all. A friend who is also struggling with depression said, "It's actually just physical!"

Is it? Is this kind of suffering also "just physical"? Can it go away with the right pill? How does that fit in with the "dark night of the soul"? Is there anything more, more meaningful, to psychological brokenness?

I'm convinced that no suffering--and no joy--is "just physical" or "spiritual" or "psychological" or "emotional." Human beings are never just physical, just spiritual, just psychology, or just emotions. We think we can isolate our experiences into various categories--it is so practical to categorize in order to control and manipulate. But when we fracture ourselves in order to understand ourselves, in order to heal ourselves, then we lose ourselves. And we end up only more broken. The back pain may lift with enough Aleve and a perfect posture, but if I think I have escaped unscathed, I am wrong. The depression may vanish with enough psychobabble and sertraline, but there are other consequences with which I must contend.

Along with far-reaching consequences of one sort of suffering--say, depression--there are also great opportunities. The spiritual war being waged in my soul, the battle for physical health, and the humiliation of psychological depression--in all these things, I may become more than a conqueror. In them, God might lead me in a "way I know not," until all that I am finds healing. Not just my back. Not just my brain. Not just, even, my soul. The total devastation of the Cross might one day become the total victory of the Resurrection.

And so, depression is not just a problem with my serotonin. It's not even a setback. It can become a way, a way through a dark night, to the place I long to be.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Fr. Kurt Pritzl, OP. RIP.

"... love, real love, divine, unconditional love, actually happens in human lives. God grant that it happen in our lives, even in our lives here together... for as long as we are granted to stay here." ~ Fr. Kurt Pritzl, OP

Father Pritzl, one of the greatest teachers of philosophy and witnesses to love I've known, passed away last night after a long battle with cancer.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sts. Cyril and Methodius: Ut Unum Sint!

Today is a beautiful, warmer Valentine's Day up in rural New England, but it is first and foremost the Feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, co-patrons of Europe. I've been musing a lot lately on the schism between the Orthodox and Catholic churches, and these two men seem like they might also be the best patrons of the return to Christian unity. They were particularly beloved of John Paul II, whose encyclical letter Apostles to the Slavs not only draws an eloquent picture of the saints but also of his own heart for the Gospel. May their lives inspire us to become "all things to all people" in love. On Valentine's Day.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Updates and Miscellania.

I'm slowly composing a new post on life in my head, but it's not quite coming together. I wanted to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers and suggestions: My back pain is finally lifting! I seem to be on the upswing with the help of a home TENS unit (frabjous machine!), some serious strength training (think Buffy!), and lots of encouragement from near, far, and online (hail, friendship!).

In the meantime, here are a few miscellaneous items.

A friend just let me know about CERC (Catholic Education Resource Center), which brings together articles from all sorts of resources in the Catholic publishing world. I haven't been able to dig through much of it yet, but there seems to be an article on just about every imaginable issue.

One of the newest posts is "The Romance of Domesticity," by Nathan Schlueter. It's simply marvelous. You must read it. If you're looking for a Valentine's Day poem to copy over for your True Love, here's Schlueter's 2006 poem to his wife.

Real Love (2006)
When I am overwhelmed by the thickness of the world
I understand why God chose this life for me

Because I don't paint pictures I write poems
Because I don't eat chocolate I drink gin
Because I don't read history I study mythology
Because I don't tell jokes I listen to music

Then I return:And soon I find myself grasping, desperately.

to the smell of Emil's diaper,
Helen is in despair (her baby is cold),
Leo can't get his Lego car to work (the wheel keeps coming off)
And dinner isn't ready, you tell me,
All at once

I am grateful for you, beyond words,
Beyond all reckoning, for your splendor
And your solidity.
Zossima was right: Love in reality,
compared to love in dreams,
Is a harsh and terrible thing.

So be it! So be it!

Beautiful. Good. True.

The article first appeared in print in Touchstone magazine, "a journal of mere Christianity." We were given a subscription for Christmas, and wow. I appreciate especially that most of the articles can be read in the 15 minutes before I fall asleep at the end of a day.

And, looking toward my own incubating post on suffering, "Refusing to Suffer is Refusing to Live," by Chelsea Zimmerman, was a good read this week.

But enough for scattered miscellania. Have a lovely Valentine's Day. And it's okay to celebrate love along with Hallmark.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Come on, April!

I'm going (barring a back debacle!)!

After the Long Winter, we sure could use a little smackeral of something to look forward to that first weekend of April. Hoping to meet you here: Stoneham, MA.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Set Free to Love

I know a lot of people for whom experience trumps rational argument. "Well, in my experience, the Church's teaching on marriage is just impossible." "That's nice for you, but it's not everyone's experience."

The point of Catholic anthropology (or, the Church's view on the human person) is that experience fulfills and gives life to doctrine. That is, if reason and revelation demonstrate a truth, then that truth will give meaning to human experience. And the lived experience of the truth is the fullness of human happiness.

Never is this more true than with respect to human bodies, in particular to human sexuality. John Paul II's (he's being beatified!) Theology of the Body at first seems like a lot of heady reflection on Scripture and philosophy (which it is). But when you have lives changed by the Theology of the Body, you also have Theology of the Body proved by lives lived.

Marcel LeJeune's Set Free to Love: Lives Changed by the Theology of the Body provides a good companion to any study of John Paul II's thought. He draws together eleven testimonies--from married and single laity, religious, and clergy--of men and women who encountered the pope's thought and experienced a profound conviction that it is true. Many of the stories are dramatic, but some are simpler. The book is accessible and enjoyable and provides a real spark of hope: Conversion and a heroic fidelity to the Catholic vision of the person is possible.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company, and the reviewer received a free copy of the text in exchange for her opinion. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Lives Changed by the Theology of the Body. The Catholic Company is a great place for Catholic Valentine's Day gifts, too!