I have been thinking about the way that anything at all can draw us closer to God. The flip side of that is that anything at all can draw us away. It doesn't seem quite fair that practices intended to draw us closer can have the opposite effect, but it's true. I have firsthand experience with letting a prayer routine interfere with an actual encounter with the divine presence, with saying, "Wait a minute, Jesus, I'm not done saying the Canticle of Zechariah." That's what the lolcats call "doin it rong."
So I have tried to be unpicky about spiritual experiences, to be quietly grateful for my pastor while accepting that his replacement will probably not blend bookishness and fervor and dry humor in the measure that so pleases me, and to be accepting about the dismal music that predominates at our parish. It's not about the pastor; it's not about the choir. It's only about Jesus.
In the years since my last retreat, I had started thinking that retreats could foster the same sort of unfortunate idolatry, in which the emotional experience of the weekend becomes more important than the long-haul relationship with God and the pursuit of holiness. If you have been on a retreat in the TEC/Koinonia/Cursillo/ACTS family, you will know that there's a Saturday night event that feels a little like a foretaste of heaven. You can let it lead you to a deeper longing for heaven, or you can focus on how many people turned up and how well (or badly) the music went and how many of the retreatants cried.
But I think my discouragement was misplaced. Just like in marriage-- there are moments that are glorious and moments when it is an act of spiritual fortitude to keep the icepick in the utensil drawer and out of the offending spouse's orbit. (Just an illustration, folks! Nothing to see here-- I don't even own an icepick! Also, orbit juice is too messy for me.) It might be true that we grow closer to each other and to heaven in the difficult moments, but it would be silly to eschew the laughing moments or the sated moments (or the sated and laughing moments) for that reason.
This is the time of year when I always think back on my Lenten disciplines, some of which stick and some of which I am happy to jettison. This year I gave up sweets, and Facebook, and pulling out the gray hairs that seemed to multiply like sproingy albino bunnies the moment I published this post. It's been a good discipline to let the gray hairs be free. I have thought often about the woman in this Knitty spread, who seems so at ease with her aging self. Giving up sweets, also good -- but hard for me to maintain during Easter. Giving up Facebook has been really fruitful, but I just found out TONIGHT that Miriel is pregnant. I miss hearing from pals like Erin who haven't been blogging much lately. I had moments of thinking, "I will delete my account and never look back!" -- but I need some discernment there. Sometimes it's hard to know what's pulling us away.
But sometimes it's not. Karen left me a comment on my re-entry post, suggesting that I reconsider the plan to knit less. I have compulsive tendencies that sometimes keep me engaged in an activity long after I've stopped enjoying it. Lately knitting hasn't been feeding my soul, or even satisfying my urge to relax. No harm in cutting back there, I don't think.
This is a post in need of a tidy ending, but perhaps it's fitting that I don't have one. There are no tidy endings, at least not this side of heaven, in the search to "throw off everything that hinders." I think the best we can do is to keep praying, and puzzling, and figuring it out one day at a time.