Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Consuming Fire

All you who are thirsty,
come to the water!
You who have no money,
come, buy grain and eat;
Come, buy grain without money,
wine and milk without cost!
Why spend your money for what is not bread;
your wages for what does not satisfy?
Only listen to me, and you shall eat well,
you shall delight in rich fare.
Pay attention and come to me;
listen, that you may have life.
Isaiah 55:1-3
All throughout last week I was consumed by a task that the Spirit laid upon me, regarding a new vision of what religious education could be in our parish. I was charged to go speak to my pastor and tell him that our current classroom structure was a failing model, that we should drastically reduce the cost and pull back to a once-a-month model that focused on parental formation, and that if we tried this for a year we would see Mass attendance skyrocket, confession times expand, and our weekly collections increase.
Were not our hearts burning within us...?
Luke 24:32
I use the word "consumed" advisedly. This mission burned within me. Everything spiritual thing that was not this task was scoured away: old resentments, current vices, and even bad habits. (Except, alas, biting my nails.) Until I delivered my message, I could not sleep or eat. At night, I lay awake, this vision driving out every other thought or plan. During the day, I had no desire to eat anything before I fulfilled this task. I'd been trying for months to fast regularly, but this week, I didn't have to try. The fasting was ancillary to the mission.
Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke:
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking off every yoke?
...Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Isaiah 58:6,8
There are many ways of discerning whether a message is from God, and I tried them. One compelling factor was that of my own accord, I didn't want to do it. The thought of laying a crazy prophetic message before the powers that be made me feel sick and terrified. Excited, but terrified. And I wished God had chosen someone else to make waves. I emailed all the catechists of the parish to ask for their prayers and support, and received both. And so, impelled I went first to the religious education office to lay out this vision.

I am generally a person with a highly developed political sensibility, skilled at communication and able to play both social 4-D chess and the long game, but in retrospect, perhaps I was naive to expect that the person whose full-time job it is to choose curriculum and administer classes would be instantly excited by a plan that called for less curriculum and less classes. The more I talked, the less I seemed to make myself understood. Each time I tried a new tack -- excessive fees, teacher exhaustion, scheduling difficulties -- I found myself at an impasse. Reasoning that had been compelling to all the parents and teachers I had spoken with seemed to make no impact on administration.

Friends, I have not cried publicly for perhaps twenty years, but I found myself sobbing in this meeting. In the moment, I tried to brush it off with a number of lame excuses -- I'm sorry, this isn't like me; I'm tired; I'm hormonal -- but none of these was the full truth. I had been carrying this burden for a week, this message from God burning from within, and I couldn't seem to communicate its urgency. I didn't feel like a failure, because I had done what I was charged to do. Indeed, as I bawled afterwards in church, all I could say was, "I did what you told me to!"
Then the LORD answered me and said:
Write down the vision;
Make it plain upon tablets,
so that the one who reads it may run.
For the vision is a witness for the appointed time,
a testimony to the end; it will not disappoint.
If it delays, wait for it,
it will surely come, it will not be late.
Habakkuk 2:2
The next day I met with our pastor. He was gracious and attentive. He asked questions to clarify what I was telling him. I believe we were on the same page as to the actual purpose of religious education, and how we were not meeting that right now. But as with the day before, I could not carry my point either on price or on structure. It didn't matter so much. I had done what I was told to do, and I remembered one of the key rules of negotiation: if you win major concessions right away, they will almost always be walked back. Never go for the instant win or the instant change, because people want to chew on ideas until they come around to them themselves.

In the very last moment, as I was saying goodbye, a chance remark opened the door to an entirely different conversation, in which, instead of me pushing for financial change from the catechist angle, Darwin joins finance council and works from that side. If that's the only thing that comes out of this whole ordeal, it's probably a pretty effective solution, at least to that side of the problem (although I did ask God why he couldn't have arranged this more directly and spared me the grief of the past week). I hope we will see great changes. I hope God chooses another messenger. I hope I don't gain back the weight I lost over the past few days.

But I did what God asked of me, and now it's out of my hands.
Yet just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
And do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
Giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
So shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
It shall not return to me empty,
but shall do what pleases me,
achieving the end for which I sent it.
Isaiah 55:10-11


Katherine said...

Id love to hear what your monthly family faith formation ideas are. We currently use this model at our parish but my husband and I have offered to help come up with ideas about restructuring our monthly meeting for the adults because we are having difficulty engaging them. In the three years we have been participating we have tried the different programs!!! Feel free to email me. I'm inspired by your passion and I know what it is like when you have a holy discontent that Good sets on your heart!

mrsdarwin said...

Thank you, Katherine! I need to dedicate a whole 'nother post to my philosophy and ideas, and I'll try to write that up this week. Meanwhile, here's a model for Family Catechesis that someone shared with me:

Recently I heard someone say that a challenge for her when she was single-parenting was the Family Catechesis at her parish focused on building marriages. I think building marriages is great, but the purpose of family formation is to strengthen parents, together or individually, or any adult who's in a position of influence with a child, to actually live the faith, moment by moment, so that their example becomes the model for their child. Otherwise, catechists are building on a foundation of sand if their teaching is being undermined at home.

Julie said...

I've been there - with the consuming mission that you do not want to do but must, because it is burning in your bones. And afterward there may not be anything more to do but one has carried the message - just like the prophets - and it is the seed in the people's heart through which God may work. Wonderful post and thank you for sharing your experience. :-)

Itinérante said...

Thank you very very much.