Desires

I had this question posed to me months ago and have been mulling over it since: What do you really desire to do? I’m not talking “big picture,” though that’s a valid question, too. I mean the day-to-day. I mean when you end up sitting on the couch playing a mobile game for an hour. Or when Netflix asks if you’re still there during a series marathon. These are things we end up doing, but is that truly our desire?

There are plenty of things I desire to do: read more books, shut down electronics at night, spend time in prayer. So why don’t I do it? It’s not just laziness. I don’t want to be a sloth, even though that sometimes happens, and it’s often not intentional. But in not doing anything, I’m also acting on a desire—one that’s easier to fulfill. Not doing is as much a desire as doing. Picking up a book is acting on a desire, but so is not picking up that same book. Lately, despite the desire to do, I’m aware of acting more upon the desire to not do. Once you start sliding, that’s a tough hill to climb back up.

The question is, “Why?” It can’t just be human nature. It’s true that we naturally rebel against goodness, but there are also sparks of inspiration. It’s why we reach out to God, even when we don’t know we’re reaching to Him. It’s why we’re inspired to read that book, or say the rosary before bed. But desire doesn’t always lead to the act. I have rosary beads all around the apartment. I have books at my bedside, on my desk, and on the couch. The desire is there, but I often can’t follow through.

“I stretch out my hands to thee; my soul thirsts for thee like a parched land.”
—Psalm 143:6

I feel God knocking on the door. “Just let Me in,” He seems to say, but I don’t answer. It’s a constant inner struggle. I fear He’ll reprimand me or, perhaps worse, ask me to do something. Devotion is a nice idea, and maybe I’ll do it later. But I’m also tired of putting things off. I’m behind on my reading for the year, even though I’ve been working from home for most of it. What have I been doing with that time, if not reading, praying, or even cleaning the apartment? Why is the desire to do nothing so overpowering?

At least I’m aware that He’s knocking. When I’ve been stagnant too long, I examine what I’ve been doing for the past hour. Is it productive? Is it really what I desire to be doing? The answer is usually “no.” Sometimes, that’s motivation enough to start praying or read a book. (Those don’t even require getting up!) Even at rest, we’re to be connected to God. That’s the whole purpose of the Sabbath, after all, so I’m not just talking about doing things. Be a slothful lump, or rest in the presence of God? It should be an easy choice, but sometimes it’s not. But being more aware has helped. “Is this what you truly desire to be doing?” If not… get up, and do something else.

No Mask, No Service

It was a long journey through the desert (that is, “quarantine”) before we could return to Mass. I almost didn’t believe it when I received the email—it had been three months, a span that seems like nothing in retrospect, but also a time we barely remember happening. Real, live, public Mass had returned, though it was different than we were used to.

I jumped at the chance to get back, but some didn’t share my enthusiasm. I get it—many parishioners are older or have families, and what kid is going to sit still in a mask for an hour? I thought it would be strange returning to church after so long without, but it wasn’t. I’d seen everyone on livestream, even if they hadn’t seen me, so I forgot it had been months since our last conversation. The pews and the altar looked the same, though now with the lingering scent of disinfectant. We were told where to sit—six feet away from other church-goers—a request that wasn’t well-received with some who are used to their “usual” seat. It was an adjustment, but it was okay. It meant we were coming home; we could finally receive the Eucharist again, and I cried a little like I did those first few times after Confirmation.

Once before Mass, a couple police officers came in. I wasn’t paying too much attention, and I don’t think they were checking the place out, but it made me think. I thought of countries where Christian worship is forbidden. I thought of other religions that can’t worship openly. And I knew that worship services were being scrutinized; maybe they still are. I do know that we’re following the rules best we can.

I volunteered to be a church monitor. It’s like a socially-distant usher, leading people to the pews and reminding them to keep masks on. I’m honestly terrible at it. I don’t know why I always volunteer for things that require confrontation. It’s unlikely that any of the monitors particularly like it. It’s hard, and some people are unintentionally difficult (I have my favorite pew, too). But we’re doing this so we can be there.

If we childishly whine about it—even if that’s how I feel on the inside—we’ll make no progress. There are plenty of people who are whining, and their refusal to listen is causing the rest of us to sweat in masks during the hottest months of the year. I want to go back to church. I want to attend “coffee and community” afterward, trying to find the jelly Munchkins amid the boxes scattered around the room. I hate the phrase “new normal;” I want real normal. One day we’ll be there again. In the meantime, I’ll try to be confrontational and ask the man who never covers his nose to please put his mask back on.

Where I Want to Be

For the most part, I think we’ve all done pretty well despite a bad situation. I was recently looking at photos of the Spanish Flu epidemic—everyone in masks and gloves, sitting on opposite sides of train cars to prevent contamination. It’s creepy in its now-familiarity. The big difference, of course, is our access to the virtual sphere. They were unable to work from home, received the latest news from an actual newspaper, and likely couldn’t attend church at all.

I was working on a completely different blog post this week. (We’ll discuss Bl. Justo Takayama later!) But I see that now as an attempt to ignore the way I feel about the world right now. Some days it feels like the world is on fire, and I’m having a harder and harder time focusing on my work. So let’s be honest—things are not okay. And all it took were a few text messages asking after my spiritual health for me to realize the depth of it.

Considering the circumstances, it’s not wrong to be a little panicked right now. It’s been so long since we’ve had some semblance of a “normal” life and routine. Lately, I’ve been keeping myself busy with little things I’ve been meaning to do: sew a shirt hem; do a jigsaw puzzle; finish that video game. That’s all fine, but I’ve been ignoring the bigger things. Like talking to God and being honest about my feelings.

We’re blessed that virtual Mass is an option. Even though the archived livestream is available whenever, I shut everything down at 5:30 Saturday to attend. It was weird at first, watching a live feed from a parish a mere mile away. But like other strange routines, it became normal. It wasn’t until I was in the church parking lot this week, staring at the locked front doors from my car, that I understood how much I missed it. And I cried.

In a strange way, it made me think of this blog. It began as a chronicle of my conversion, a journey I proudly and publicly shared. There was a lot to learn; I was absorbing everything and was unashamed about my feelings. I’ve lost a little of that along the way. Some weeks these posts are merely informative, or just a book review (books are very important, though). There have been a couple weeks I didn’t post anything at all, mostly for lack of time. But I’m rarely honest anymore. I don’t discuss what’s going on in my spiritual life. I’ll talk about my thoughts or opinions, but not my faith. It’s suffered the same fate as my life as a whole, when it was supposed to be my [virtual] spiritual retreat.

Where do I want to be? I want to be in church, certainly. But I also want to be myself, unashamedly spilling my feelings and crying over a love of Jesus. We all ache for “normal” again, where going to work or a restaurant is simple. We have no control over that timing, but I can control my own “normal” life of devotion. This is a journey, and I’ve been standing still for a while.

I’m sorting through a lot of mental and spiritual stuff right now. What I really want from my spiritual life, and how to hear God despite my fears and judgements. But it’s hard to be honest with yourself. I simply want to be joyful and unashamed, which is strangely difficult for me to do. But like any healing, the first step is admitting that you need it. Maybe I’m supposed to be stuck at home for a while. Now I have no excuse, with all the time I’m saving by not commuting or attending various volunteer meetings.

I want my normal life back, but more than that, I want that union with Jesus again.