The last days of classes fill up with exams and papers, but I always insist on turning them in on Friday so as not to allow them to eat into my time off. Getting this done is complicated by my tendency to occupy myself with plannning out the use of two weeks of pristine, unclaimed, most delectable time. Each day leading up to the break sees an increase in the books I am going to read, the poetry I am going to memorize, the people I am going to visit, the hunting I am going to do, the days I am going to spend in silent meditation, and the number of languages I am going to learn.
This all goes well until about three or four days into the break, when I flip on the TV set for the first time. Never mind the Netflix queue of 104 films I've been hankering to devour for months and months; now, Live Free or Die Hard is on, and I'm watching it, though it's not crossed my mind once as something I wanted to enjoy. I stay up way too late and sleep in, burning up the morning between chapters of Horatio Hornblower and nursing that semiconscious state of interminably pleasurable awareness of how I'm-awake-but-I-don't-have-to-be. I get up for lunch with high hopes for the afternoon, and shake off the guilty pleasure of lassitude that hangs about me as best I can. I deserved it, anyway. This vacation. A few hours of goal-driven achievement, then a quick break with some novelties on the Discovery Channel. It's clearly starting all over again, I can see it coming, but I'm on vacation, dangit! Relax a bit! You can't be thinking all the time! (So true, but such a lie.) Soon it's dinnertime, and there's no sense in starting anything after supper. More languor, more dissipation, more distraction. Prayer becomes less and less of a merciful release and more and more of a burden. The breviary gets put off until later and later in the evening. Praying no longer animates the day but lays it down to sleep. Soon, I'm so frustrated with myself that I escape from being alone with myself or with God into more distraction, and then it all just comes crashing down.
To be honest, the only thing that keeps me coming back to visit my folks is the conversations we have over the dinner table. Time and time again, they are the sole redeeming moments of days on end (though I will admit to coming across some pretty sweet stuff on Time Warp last week). If it weren't for that, I'd be long gone. LONG GONE.
Yet tonight, at the rector's address to the whole community, it struck me that my experience on this past vacation (and nearly every vacation) isn't so useless. Admittedly, a little wasted vacation time helps to pull back the protective cloak of self-importance I wrap around this process of preparation. But as scrupulous or neurotic as my compunction about prayer and sleeping in and television viewing taken singly might seem, they are in common powerfully oppossed to the sense of purpose and progress that is present when I'm engaged in the formation process in the seminary. They are the wobble and yaw of the rocket that's exhausted its fuel before reaching orbit. Yet the unwillingness to confront personal weakness and let it BE in the sight of God, choosing rather to fly into various diversions (the very definition of sloth), itself is a powerful experience of what I would imagine many people live on a day to day basis.
Obviously this is not something I would restrict to the category of "people without faith". I would not classify myself as such a person. I believe this is a common experience not because I have a low opinion of people but because it's so easy. The challenges to living a serene, integral, and recollected life are legion, and almost nobody would ever chastise us for our complaints of busyness and frenetic activity. They are more likely to sympathize. Yet deep down, we know better, and we are begging for someone to tell us so.
A recent homily on the season of Advent by the vocation director of my diocese spoke powerfully into this personal situation, and managed to remind me that as usual, I've got it all wrong.
You and I are probably too timid to blame God for our exile, for our long-suffering inability to make ourselves into what we want to be. We instead blame ourselves, and ask God to keep his distance and to give us more time to tinker with our self-improvement projects . . . .If some of that language bothers you, thank God.Advent is the time for us to stop asking God to leave us alone as long as possible so that we can mold ourselves before having to turn in the final product for judgment at an unspecified date . . . It is futile to pray that God will give us all the time we need. Rather, we are to expect that God is coming now, so now is the time to beg God Himself to mold us into what we are supposed to be, according to His will. Most of us are too timid to blame God for our exile. We are too self-centered to ask God for less time instead of for more.