The past few posts have been somewhat hard hitting- attempting to get to the truth about some unfortunate trends in our modern day culture. We have sought to uncover the facades that Satan paints over things such as pornography and contraception, and reveal them for what they truly are – damaging to women (and men!) and out-and-out lies. In this post, however, I am going to break from this trend and seek to be a little more introspective. I would like to discuss “Interiority.” Lent is a perfect time to have this discussion.
Lent is, in a way, a time for interiority. Preparing for Easter is so different than preparing for Christmas! In our consumer culture there is no mistaking Christmastime. Decorations go on sale as soon as October is over. The malls are decorated by mid-autumn and the Christmas Carols begin creeping onto the radio stations well before Advent even begins! All this reminds us that a huge event is on the horizon – and amidst the consumerism and secularism, we remember that we are anticipating Christ’s birth. Easter is so very different! Certainly the amazing event of God-Made-Man rising from the Dead, defeating Death and taking on Himself the sins of the world is worthy of as much anticipation! (Not to mention that this same man is also the baby whose birth is so readily anticipated every Christmas time!) Yet, when Lent comes there is hardly anything that
would give it away. Sure on one particular Wednesday you may catch a glimpse of an unusual amount of people walking around with an ash smudge on their foreheads, and the menus at the fast food restaurants betray that Lent has indeed arrived with their revised menus including some sort of Fish Sandwich entrée, that just so happens to be half price on Fridays! But aside from these things, Lent arrives quietly, and goes on for some time before we are inundated by the consumeristic interpretation of the Easter Event involving a large rodent delivering candy. (Not that I have anything against the Easter Bunny – he comes to our house and announces the Resurrection of Our Lord by leaving us treats to help us celebrate).
So why this great disparity between these two major holidays? Why is it that one seemingly can’t begin fast enough, and the other unobtrusively comes upon us? I think it has to do with interiority. Advent and Christmas are about being outward – about giving and happily anticipating an event that is always and forever exciting – the birth of a baby who would save us. Lent is more about looking into ourselves and allowing God to help us weed out those things that keep us from Him. Lent is about focusing inward and testing our Faith, strengthening our Spiritual Mettle through mortification and penance. Lent culminates first with a very real and candid picture of death and suffering. It forces us to confront our own mortality – it begins with us being told that we shall return to dust! and our wearing proof of this statement on our foreheads; it ends when our Lord and God dies a grisly death and is placed in a tomb. Lent is uncomfortable. So too, is interiority…at first.
Sometimes the hardest place to look is within. Many of us don’t always like what we see, and its much easier to focus outward and on others, rather than face those interior struggles against things that we know we need to change, but don’t really want to admit the need to change. Yet, this time of year, that is precisely what we are called to. The cry begins with John the Baptist at Advent, “Repent!” and we think to ourselves, “Oh I can do that, no problem.” So we go about our frenzied present wrapping, gift giving, and bargain hunting. We throw some coins in the Salvation Army pot, feel good about it, and hurry along to the next store. We squeeze in a penance or prayer service and try to feel prepared. When Christmas Eve comes we all too often realize that Advent sped by, and we didn’t spend as much time as we intended pondering and praying, preparing and repenting. Then there is a short lull. We start to get comfortable with ourselves and with our place on this walk of Faith. January winds down and February sets in. Then out of nowhere its time for Ash Wednesday and Lent is upon us. This time though, there is no frenzied holiday rush. There are 40 long days to be reminded that what we might have attempted to do during Advent – Repent! – better happen this time around, because after all, “We are dust, and to dust we shall return.” Thats when it starts to get uncomfortable.
In order to truly repent, we must figure out what we are repenting of, and, my friends, you guessed it, you can’t do that unless you take a good hard look inside. This is the beginning of interiority.
Interiority is spoken about quite a bit in the Theology of the Body. It is a word that has been thrown about in matters of personal faith from the times of the early Church Fathers. A relatively new phrase, coined by the Venerable John Paul II is the “interior gaze.” But what does it all mean? What does it have to do with Lent, and most pointedly, what, if anything, does it have to do with Femininity? (I mean thats what this blog is ultimately about right?)
Interiority is actually a very feminine thing. Here is yet another instance where our biology and our morphology (how we are put together) teach us something about the realities of Faith and God. Think of your body. One of the most uniquely feminine things about it is that you have a womb. This interior part of you is created with the ability and the purpose of carrying and nurturing a life, and then bringing forth that life. Think of this – in order for that life to be created, the woman must first ‘take in‘ the love (in a very physical sense) of her spouse. Then this love is quite literally internalized. Then, God willing, this love that was internalized becomes a person, and for nine months gains strength and size inside the mother. As the baby – the incarnation of Love – grows and becomes stronger, the woman’s body changes and grows. Once the appointed time has come, and the new life, the new person, is ready, the woman brings forth – out of herself – the baby – the creation of Love. Now parallel that to the Love of God: a person accepts and takes in the love of God. We do this in a most profound way through Holy Communion. This Love fills our souls, we dwell on it. We pray, we are strengthened by it. Mediating on this Love, allowing this Love to wash over us, to change and mold us (much like a woman’s body changes and grows during pregnancy), we begin a life of interiority – internalizing God’s Love, letting Him show us the things inside ourselves that keep us from Him, allowing Him to help us get rid of those things so that we become a better vessel in which He pours His Love. After we learn how to internalize His Love, and after this Love changes us, grows within us, and teaches us how to see the way God sees, we then are ready to bring forth this Love to the world. This Love then bursts out of us – as we Love the way God Loves.
How amazing is it that your body is a metaphor for interiority! You see, Interiority is about our souls. It is about knowing how to look within, so that we can properly look without . An interior life is one in which we allow God to dwell within us, and to teach us how to encounter the world through the eyes of our souls – the way He sees.
What does this have to do with Lent? Lent is traditionally a time when we try to begin or deepen this thing called the interior life. Before God can truly dwell in us, we have to make sure He feels welcome. We do that by looking within and asking God to help us remove those things which keep us from Him. This is a hard and terrifying process. Sometimes it is painful. This is why interiority is so inferior today. It is not for the faint of heart! Again – kind of like a woman. You may look unassuming and timid on the outside, but within, you are made with the ability to do the pelvic equivalent of expelling a watermelon through your nose. THAT, my friends is not for the faint of heart either! Lent reminds us that we strengthen ourselves interiorly by doing acts of penance and mortification. We gain in our ability to make Christ welcome in our souls when we mortify our senses. This is how our interiority gains strength over our worldliness. If you truly want to see how Christ sees, you have to teach yourself to look with the interior gaze – not looking through the lenses of the world. Once again, we cannot do this unless we have allowed Him into our souls. To “dwell in our hearts” so to speak; and once again, He cannot take up residence there if we have still have within ourselves that which prevents Him from entering: namely sin, and sinful habits.
Did you ever notice that for most of us we confess the same types of sins over and over again? Maybe you’ve never had to confess to gluttony in your entire life, but it feels like every time you go to confession you are confessing a sin of calumny or gossip. Satan loves to trap us into a sinful pattern – it makes his job so much easier. It is our “weak spot” and this ‘bad habit’ really puts a damper on trying to lead a life of interiority in Christ. Just as these sins are a bad habit that we have to break, looking inside ourselves to attempt to weed out the root of these sinful habits is the beginning of the interior life. During Lent when we sacrifice and do acts of penance, when we fast and practice mortifying our senses – not letting our senses and passions rule us – we begin to form good habits – Holy habits. With the help of the Holy Spirit these good habits begin to replace the bad ones. Our sinfulness is replaced by holiness and Christ is more welcome to dwell within us. This is is when we let Him teach us how to use the interior gaze – which also takes practice; seeing others the way God sees them – with dignity and beauty – made in the Image of God Himself. Seeing from within allows us to see without the way it was intended. Living a life of interiority gives us a glimmer of how we were to encounter the world before the Fall, before that infamous apple.
Interiority is about relationship. Relationship with the Triune God. It is about learning how to live with Christ inside us. Living through and in our souls. Frank Sheed, an author and Theologian, in his book, Theology and Sanity, explains that when we think about our souls we often picture this little compartment inside us that is generally white, black or some shade of gray. This little compartment has its own place and generally stays out of the way of everything else about us. He goes on to explain that this is not the most accurate depiction. Rather, we should see our souls as encompassing our bodies – our bodies, in a sense, inside our souls. If we are truly living this interior life, then we are in a very real sense, living inside our souls – seeing, hearing, sensing, acting through Christ who is Dwelling in us. Its a different picture to think of our souls and living interiorly, in this way isn’t it? It’s a different twist on interiority, and I daresay more accurate. I like to think of it as a bubble that I walk around in – and it allows me to see reality – to see and encounter the world on the Lord’s terms, the way He wants and would. When I begin to lose my interior life, when I stop praying as I aught, when I let sin creep in and take hold, when I become selfish, my “bubble” shrinks. I am unable to see the world properly and start to see through worldly eyes. I ‘hear’ but I don’t understand. I speak, but not words of Love. I act, but not charitably. Life becomes disordered. I am not longer taking care to live a life of interiority. This when a look inside is once again required. What is preventing me from living a life of Interiority? What has shrunk my “bubble?” What must I confess? And again the work of building up an interior life begins. The “bubble” gets bigger and I am once again able to see with the interior gaze, to live interiorly in the world. To encounter the world through my soul, as Christ dwells within. It is a life-long process. It gets easier, and our interior life deepens to depths unimaginable as we grow in relationship with our God.
Wow. This all sounds so hard! This takes a lot of work! yes, I won’t deny that – but God doesn’t think the same way about time as we do. For us 40 days seems long enough to work on this interiority thing! Hmm….that would be nice….but no. It takes a lifetime of trying, a lifetime of deepening, and a lifetime of practicing. Forty is a symbolic number – it is the number of days Christ spent in the Desert facing Satan (and, we might say, working on His interior life…?) but it is also the number of days that it rained on the Ark, 40 years is the amount of time that the Israelites wandered in the desert, and I might add, 40 weeks is the actual time of human gestation – the number of weeks that a woman is pregnant. (here we see again femininity as part of the great metaphor!) In the Bible 40 represents a “really long time.” It reminds me of what my kids mean when they say something was “a hundred minutes!” Its not literal – to them it means that it was a long long time. Thats what the number 40 means too – a long time. But more than meaning a long time, 40 also denotes a time of waiting, of trial or testing, and of preparation. That is what this life is – a time of trial and testing, while we prepare ourselves for Eternal Life. Pregnancy is a great metaphor for that.
So what does this have to do with the interior life? Well, while we may use the 40 days of Lent to jumpstart us into beginning (or deepening) a Spiritual Life of Interiority, it is hardly the end of such at Easter! Rather, we should be encouraged at Easter as we celebrate the Resurrection, to continue our efforts at an Interior Life, in order that we may enter Heaven and experience our own Resurrection!
May God Bless you this Lenten Season as we all anticipate His Glorious Resurrection at Easter