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

Sunday, April 05, 2020

Iron Seeking Iron

I read C. S. Lewis's The Four Loves when I was 17. Perhaps it's philosophy-lite, but it was the first that I'd ever read, and I devoured it several times. The chapter on Friendship was a revelation: a chosen love, based on shared interests, that helps the participants grow in virtue. (Lewis points out that of course, shared interests can lead people to grow in vice, too, if the interests or the people are not virtuous.)

The past weeks have been hard ones for me in terms of friendship. I thought I was doing fine with quarantine, and in many senses I am. I've had no panic attacks. I've had no problems pivoting. I have no fear of germs, and no obsessive tendencies that prey upon me. In terms of being shut up at home with my favorite people, in a spacious house with a backyard, I'm living the dream. But in the past days, the stress is coming out in other ways -- entirely predictable ways. No one's personality has changed during this time, and mine least of all. And what is suffering is my friendships.

Opposites attract, they say, but I've never found that's the case. I place great value on the ways that I am similar to my friends. And right now, stress is bringing out many of the ways in which most of the people I interact with are different than I am. And stress, and the lack of the sacraments, is also wearing down the grace that makes it easy for me to overlook people's foibles, idiosyncrasies, and and worries that I don't share. My old nemesis sloth is bearing down on me, filling me with disgust for most of the world. If I didn't need to go to confession before, I surely do now.

And what I don't need are glossy memes from media Catholics assuring me that the Pope says that right now we don't need to go to confession to a priest, if we have perfect contrition. If I could gin up perfect contrition, I'd be in a much better place than I am now. I'd been letting my Lenten social media fast slip in the chaos of the past weeks, dipping in here and there, not commenting, but reading the hot takes and the pivoting and the anxiety that manifests as scolding and educating. It's time to crack down again. I can love people right now when I'm not encountering their follies and inconsistencies (and memes), when I'm doing regular spiritual reading, when I'm fasting. Holy Week is a good time to fast, and fasting from the hot takes is the fasting I require.

People are well-nigh insane right now, but the real problem is me. Contempt is a problem. Pride is a problem. Sloth is a problem. God dwells not in these things, and I have to take steps, with his grace, to root them out -- especially now, without the strengthening effects of the sacraments. "Lead us not into temptation," I pray every day, multiple times. Not putting myself in a place of temptation is the first baby step out of this dryness, toward perfect contrition, I guess

But man is not meant to be alone. I can't do without friendship, and I know that there must be others out there who need this same kind of friendship: sane, quiet, low-drama in a time when public messaging seems a one-way ratchet of austerity and preventative signaling, and compliance becomes competition. This is why we write, any of us -- to look for truth, and to hope that by writing, we can find someone else who recognizes that truth as well. "As iron sharpens iron," says the proverb -- like aiding like, people of similar mind and personality honing and refining each other. In my most essential relationship, my marriage, I have this already. But my friendships are more varied. Right now, I have an iron deficiency, and I can see my love growing anemic as a result.


Julia said...

I hear you!

My sanity has been a text group chat with 5 other moms from our (former) homeschool co-op, people for whose kid I have prayed for two decades. Part of what helps about it (aside from the fact that they are all Christians) is that it is a group. People have other needs than I do, different prayer requests, somewhat different perspectives; they are reading other things; the conversation is not the endless one-on-one. I have the option of not responding, and the benefit of seeing someone else respond.

Even in NYC you can still make arrangements for going to confession. Are the churches there entirely closed? We don't have mass, but the church is open for adoration each day.

Emily J. said...

This really strikes a chord. The difference in my mental attitude on days I check into social media and the days I don't is huge. I meant to give up Facebook for Lent, but never really did. But for a couple days last week and over the weekend, I took a break from all of the online opinions, and it was wonderful. I need to remember this, while at the same time trying to moderate my desire for information. On the other hand, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed my video conference rosary group and book club last week. I usually don't like facetime and other video calls, but these online group meetings really filled a need for conversation. Maybe desperation! But just seeing the faces of friends was uplifting.

Arkanabar T'verrick Ilarsadin said...

If you can bear a face-to-face confession, then call your priest. Ask him if the phone can serve as a confessional. After all, we had the Rite of Reconciliation long before we had confessionals. I don't know of any liturgical or theological reason why it couldn't, but I am neither a liturgist nor a theologian.