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

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Advent, Day 13: La Guadalupana

It's the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, as well as being as close as makes no never mind to the mid-point of Advent, and as regards celebrating my mother's feast day I haven't been that faithful of a daughter. We didn't read the mass readings, we didn't say the rosary, we didn't even watch La Guadalupana together, although my son asked a few times when we were going to get to it. All this coincides with my advent low point. I'd been reading a few chapters of Isaiah each day, but last night I just didn't because it was late and I was falling asleep. I'm struggling lately with gluttony combined sloth, the tendency to snack when I can because what the hell, I'm fat anyway. And the other morning as I stepped on the scale and saw another high number, I had the cynical desire to do a little experiment and see just how high my weight can go before it plateaus. Because what the hell.

And yes, I already know what I need to do. Start again. Pick up Isaiah. Put down the food. Pick up my feet. Knowledge isn't motivating in and of itself, and sometimes it's an outright burden. I did wonder what God is trying to teach me through these particular struggles this Advent. When I think of my own spiritual journey, I don't see progress, nor backsliding, nor a cycle, nor any sort of graphable movement. Sometimes new insights are accompanied by new virtue. Sometimes they're accompanied by new trials. Sometimes virtue seems to grow with knowledge, other times wisdom seems to move on some separate track from the practice of obedience. Sometimes love is warm and exciting; sometimes it's dry, Just This Thing.

Somewhere in the Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis has his devil recount how a soul, new to Hell, reproached himself: "I see now that I spent my life doing neither what I ought nor what I liked." (Quoting from memory, so give or take a word.) That sounds a good deal like the way I spend my days. On the cornice of Sloth in Purgatorio, Dante has the souls racing around, singing, "Let not the precious time be lost!" That should be the rallying cry of my life. I like to live as if the timelessness of heaven is right now, but of course it isn't. The yearning is good. The application is bad. And Jesus says that some demons can only be driven out by fasting and prayer -- two seemingly passive pursuits that take a lot of active preparation.

Somehow this all doubtless ties into Our Lady of Guadalupe, but I don't know how at this moment, and I don't feel compelled to wrap up the post with a neat little reflection. I know that everything is connected, and that we won't understand or even see those connections until death, when we see God at the center of all things. But I'm not dead yet, so let not the precious time be lost. Better to say it here than in purgatory, right?


Brandon said...

I know the feeling; I've recently been having to deal with the cynical desire to see just how long I can put off doing all the long list of things that should pretty much already be done. I find in my case, at least, that the problem often comes from not seeing it in perspective -- ironically, it tends to come down to treating things as more important than they are, and things never come naturally unless I recognize just how much more important other things are. I often end up focusing too much on acts -- do this, don't do this -- that are really means to something else that makes them worth doing. It's like fretting and fretting over what birthday card to get as if the birthday card were the point. When you have things in perspective, you don't do the fretting -- and you often do better getting the right card, or, if the right card doesn't show, getting something that works even better.

Agnes said...

Thanks for the two great quotes: both Dante and C. S. Lewis. I, too had a low point today in church, remembering last week's homily (one thought of it was not to put off the good deeds, the metanoia) and the way I was full of good intentions never to be realized until I faced this Sunday of Advent - where the priest again admonished us that good intentions aren't enough. Let not the precious time be lost - I join you!

Anonymous said...

There's a good "making mountains out of molehills" fortune cookie in there, but I can't quite grasp it. "You think that's a big problem? Here's a real mountain." She knows how to make them, and she knows how to smash them flat to prepare a highway. Anyone who has time to spill roses all over the place can get us moving, but we do have to pick them up and they do have thorns.

I've never had much attraction to Our Lady of Guadalupe (terrible Steubie I am), but you've got to have respect for her sense of drama.

MrsDarwin said...

I was sitting around the other day, disgusted with stuff and with myself, and trying to count my blessings. I'm not a refugee. I have full use of my legs. No one's ever broken into my house. I've never been raped. My children are all still alive, and have never been hungry (except for when they refuse to eat a perfectly good dinner). My papers are all legitimate. My bed is cozy. My indoor plumbing works. And these are just physical blessings.

I still felt crabby (the kind of crabby where no one's jokes are funny) but I did put it aside and wash the dishes, and that was something that needed to be done. The antidote to sloth is just doing the next thing and getting out of your own head.

I like to talk to people who understand sloth as a separate thing from depression. I had the world's mildest case of baby blues after William was born, and I can remember the physical heaviness and the emotional shakiness. Sloth is different. It really is a lack of love, a spiritual disorder. It's rightly ranked as one of the deadly sins because it's deadening. It denies that anything is made in the image of God. Ugh, what a nasty little foretaste of hell.

On the other hand, sloth can also show up as an easy, lazy sort of temptation, the kind that tells you that it doesn't matter because there's no hurry anyway. And the deceptive thing about that is that prudence also tells you to prioritize things and to put some tasks aside for later. Of course, prudence also tells you to get up off your lazy ass and do some other work, so that's how you can tell the two apart.

Brandon said...

The temptation to sloth is always a temptation to give up on goodness -- sometimes in this way, sometimes in that way, but it's always about giving up as if goodness didn't matter. I like your point about its being a lack of love, which I think is exactly right. It's not as serious as retaliating against good because it is inconvenient (wrath) or treating good as if it were evil just because it's not yours (envy), but it's definitely a very bad thing.

Enbrethiliel said...


Coincidentally, I'm (claiming to be) reading Dante's Purgatorio now. (Anthony Esolen's translation is elegant!) But until you pointed it out, I hadn't seen the symmetry in my reading having ground to a stop while Dante, Virgil, and yes, even I are in the circle of sloth.

My own "What the hell" temptation is to see how many millimetres of dust my shelves can collect before I really feel the need to dust them. Of course, I already know the answer, which is that he who really wants to know that will never feel the need to dust.

And I recall all those times I put off beginning the rosary, then struggled with the first decade or two, only to manage beautiful mental prayer by at least the third decade. Perseverance is rewarded, but first we've got to budge.

Unknown said...

Sloth is certainly the sun I am most often and most naturally plagued with. And then there's a sick pride in the level of sloth as I sit here and think "I'm sure Meri is not as lazy as I am. She is just a bit more scrupulous." I know you will contest that and perhaps think the same thing towards me.

Another great sin that my laziness leads to is a hopelessness regarding my own metanoia. I often think, what's the point in forcing myself to do the things I need to/ought to in a timely manner, as soon as I make just a little progress, I'll regress back to my lazy ways. It never lasts.

Of course that is a self defeating attitude and denies the grace and mercy that God wants to pour onto me... Yet another sin.

It's crazy how one little bity deadly sin can lead to another and another... Oh wait, that's how sin works. Sigh!

PS - this post in and of itself feeds right into my slothfulness as I am at work and putting off preparing for class tonight.