ash wednesday

10 Mar

There is big drama in my reading of The Four Loves today. In the “Charity” section, CS Lewis has dared to contradict the great St. Augustine.  He actually says that Augustine was WRONG when Augustine warned that we must never give our hearts to anyone but God.  Augustine claims that grief is the natural product of loving an earthly being who will inevitably pass away.  Lewis argues that we grieve our earthly beloveds, not because we loved them too much, but because we loved too little and incorrectly.  “Inordinately,” which is a concept I just find fascinating. 

Sometimes, when I have found myself standing in the middle of my room, half-dressed, wondering where my shoes are and which end is up and how we will ever get ourselves out the door on time, I have to actually take a deep breath and say a little list: 1. me 2. children 3. pets 4. anything inanimate (homework, lunches) 5. the goldfish.  So I am totally simpatico with what it means to order one’s priorities – and not just about who you love.  In my home it is about who has to be first in order to assure that the other household members are taken care of. 

If you have spent any time with me, you have certainly asked me a question and had me answer that I haven’t thought about it yet or that it isn’t ripe for consideration.  What it means is that in my little list of priorities, I am more concerned with what’s more immediate, or next on the list, and I have a hard time stepping out of order to think about something that isn’t pressing (to me).  I love the ordering of priorities because it allows me to survive in the confusing state that is my life.  CS Lewis and I are, like, soulmates when it comes to a love of the orderly.  He is just a lot nicer than I am about explaining it.  When I look at you, half-crazed with confusion, it is because I can’t even see the issue you are asking about yet because we didn’t arrive at it in the order in which it is on my list.

In my book, Lewis asserts that all other loves (affection, friendship, and Eros – romantic love) must be converted to, or filled with, charity, which is God’s selfless love in order for them to work properly and as they were intended.  He further claims that we have to order our loves and give the first priority to God.  With that understanding between you and your earthly loves, all relationships flow in the correct order with charity at their heart.  To decline to engage, because loving is hard and results in loss, actually results in something worse:

There is no safe investment.  To love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken.  If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.  Wrap it carefully around with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.  But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless –it will change.  It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.  The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation.  The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

This struck me today when I thought about how Lenten I had been feeling even before today’s official start of the shrouded season, as I call it.  Stripped down to the necessities.  All extraneous interests and commitments minimized.  Deciding to stop expecting things of other people, to cease the burdening of them with my agenda and allow them the freedom and respect to choose their own actions and activities.  Is detachment the same as choosing not to love?  That is surely the topic of a 12-step meeting, but I don’t believe it is.  I believe that it is loving more selflessly because I am not imposing my will on anyone else.

I don’t know that this type of fasting is the right way to live.  I only know that I plan to give the people around me a break by not expecting them to live up to the standards that I set for them.  My children are, of course, excepted, as they are impressionable and malleable and should be encouraged, judged, and held up to some standards as I try to teach them to be the kind of people others want to have around.  I can’t slack off on that duty – it’s my job, but to the rest of you, I promise that I will try to refrain from what I did to a detective yesterday in Grand Jury:  A grand juror asked him a question, and he responded “uh-huh.”  Before I even knew what I was doing, I had stopped him and said “Did you mean to say yes ma’am?”  Clearly, a little Lent will do all my relationships good.

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