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The Picture of Dorian Gray – a Catholic novel?

I teach a high school literature course and one of the texts that is a favorite of students and a favorite of mine is The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. This novel is primarily about the human conscience, and if it were visible, what would the bearer see?  The novel contains many allusions to the Bible, as well as to Greek and Roman mythology. It is this use of allusions that form this novel into one that holds a poignant Catholic message.

The novel begins with a beautiful young man who sits for a portrait by a talented artist. This painting turns out to be the artist’s finest work. The painter performs his work in a garden quite like the Garden of Eden. Like God, the Creator, Basil, the artist, creates a beautiful masterpiece. There is gorgeous flower imagery that hints at the difficulty of “bearing the burden of beauty”. The branches of the trees tremble under the weight of the flowers. This parallels the protagonist, Dorian, who is unable to responsibly manage his beautiful facade.  Keeping with Garden of Eden allusion is Lord Henry, the novel’s version of Satan. He is a strong influence who feeds Dorian’s pride and confounds him with twisted paradoxical pearls of “wisdom.” Dorian’s immaturity mirrors that of Adam and his inability to avoid temptation. Lord Henry plants his seeds of influence, but it is Dorian who acts on his ability to convince others of his innocence, while committing atrocious, destructive sins.

As the novel progresses, we see the painting suffer the destructive effects of sin, while Dorian’s face and exterior remain unscathed. It forces us to ask ourselves the question: Would I want a picture of my own soul? Dorian thinks that he can control what happens to the image, but he cannot. His attempts at recompense never revert the painting to its former perfection. How often do we attempt to justify our actions and believe that in doing so, we can purify ourselves. What Wilde, a deathbed convert to Catholicism, is missing here is that the only way we can make our ugly souls clean again is through the sacrament of Reconciliation. Truly contrite reconciliation with our Lord and His mercy bring us to forgiveness and purification.

Wilde also discusses the Eucharist and how mesmerizing it is that Catholics can believe in something so contrary to our senses. I really love this observation. While Dorian embraces all that is decadent and worldly, he does acknowledge the beauty of the Eucharist.

In addition, Wilde explores aspects of faith in the novel and truly seems to be searching for a way to make sense of guilt and pride. He is spot on as he reveals that these two things are lethal to our souls. However, he conveys hopelessness and cannot imagine redemption and forgiveness. As Dorian falls prey to evil, he slips into the inability to redeem himself through a loving God, who is never present in the novel. I think, as believers in Christ, we can read this as a cautionary tale as to what occurs when we do not have true contrition, true faith, nor a true God. No matter how beautiful our surface is, we remain hopeless without the Lord.

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Charla Ink Slingers Marriage Motherhood

You Cannot Have It All

seekNo, you cannot have it all. This has been such a disappointing revelation for me. I was raised so idealistically, believing that if I had enough desire, fortitude, stamina and inspiration, I could accomplish everything my heart wanted. I was wise enough to know that everything comes at a cost. That cost however is what was not quite clear to my romantic notion of life. I wanted to be highly educated; I wanted to be a wife, I wanted to be a mother, I wanted to have a career, I wanted to care for my children myself, I wanted to be passionately in love for the rest of my life, I wanted to be someone of note, I wanted to grow old with no regrets. I have realized after 45 years of life, that no, I cannot have it all.

I love school. I did not always apply myself and get perfect grades, but I always loved being in the classroom. I did not relish in my life as a student like I should have. I was in a rush to be done, to move on the next chapter. I worked while I attended the university, but I had no other daunting responsibilities. It was, in hindsight, the best (read, carefree) time of my life in some ways. I never turned to God during that time, however. What a disappointing way I lived my life. I was empty in so many ways, and I did not comprehend how I only needed Him to be fulfilled. I now know it was He who moved me quickly through this phase, because it was not until I was in my senior year that I found Him again.

wantI was in love a few times during that time. The first was my “first love”; he affected me so profoundly and I look back at that relationship with a lot of “what ifs”. I was seventeen and so preoccupied with having it all that I could not see “us,” so justifiably, it ended. I never prayed for him, and I never prayed for us, though I thought I had been praying at the time, because that is who I thought I wanted. My heart was broken in a million pieces, but it was what I wanted that broke my heart, not what I needed. I noticed that the less I actually was in touch with God at any given moment, the less I was in touch with who I was.

Later, I fell in love again, with my best friend at the time. He was fun and happy and smart and kind. He was such a blessing to me in many ways, but again, I never prayed for him or for us. His friendship was what I needed to bring me to the next blessing I would be given.

Then, two weeks before I graduated, the moment when I rediscovered my faith, there he was, the man who God gave to me. I prayed for him, a lot. I prayed for us, a lot. For the first time, I was at peace with my companion, because he was the gift that I knew I prayed for. I wanted all of them at one point or another, but I could not have them all, so God gave me the one for whom I truly prayed. So after 21 years, while it may not be passion I feel at all moments like I thought I had wanted, it is peace and security, that which I had actually prayed for and needed, not just wanted.

I wanted a specific career. There were roadblocks everywhere I turned. I did not want to be a teacher; at no moment did I ever want to be a teacher! God gave me the gifts he knew I needed, not the ones I wanted. My preparations thus far had not paved the road I wanted to take like I thought they had, but they actually opened doors that, in the long run, were the most advantageous to the life I prayed for. I am now always in the classroom.

I became a mother, not in the time frame I wanted, but in the time frame that God deemed fit. My husband I were going to travel and work, but instead, my best gift came into being, because I had prayed for him. As a teacher, I had my summers with my baby, and by the time my second son came, the one I prayed for with every fiber of my being, I was able to be home full time and be with my sons, another answered prayer.

My career enabled me to be home when my kids were home, and be at school when my kids were at school. Having resigned myself to two sons, surprisingly I was blessed with the little girl I prayed for. I say often that God knew my heart’s desire, better than I did, my perfect prayer, and blessed me with my daughter.

Along the way, I have had many losses: my first loves, some friends, many aspirations, but ultimately, I am who I am because I could not have it all. I am not sure if I will go to my grave with regrets, however. Regret is an interesting thing, because, whether we realize it or not, we cannot have it all. The price we pay for one desire is the price we pay for another. If I had not known how to sacrifice and accept that which I have been given as gifts from God, I would probably be miserable. What an ultimately peaceful way to resign myself to God’s will.

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Charla Ink Slingers Motherhood Parenting

When I am overwhelmed…

 

aaaThere are many ways in which we all deal with stress, we all experience that feeling that life is just too much and the feeling of “I just can’t…”  I am not talking about the big stressors such as major illness, unemployment, death or other life-changing events. I am referring to the daily grind, the day to day, overwhelming, daunting activities: kid sports or clubs, homework, dinner on the table, cleaning, laundry, workload, dieting, exercise, parents, friends, pets, and the list goes on and on… even prayer feels like it cannot be included in my harried lifestyle.

I am in the midst of this feeling right now. There just does not seem to be enough time to do anything, so I make things worse and even more stressful by doing nothing. It seems ridiculously ironic that I would resort to apathy or outright laziness when feeling overwhelmed, but this mechanism serves me, if only for a short while.

I have stock mantra that I tell my students during the overwhelming times: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

Once I decide it is time to dig in and that I have to stop being complacent, the most effective motivation is prayer.  What happens if that is one of problematic issues that is overwhelming? The inability to pray is always the path that leads to laziness and apathy for me.  I have to begin with a pep talk, and that speech must be a plea to God asking for the motivation I need. Though I feel strapped for time, the most efficient use of that time is spent in Adoration.  Being in Christ’s presence forces me to pray for that pep talk, if only for a few minutes.  That time in Adoration centers me and places me in a state of mind to feel I can do anything.  

Another mechanism I utilize is a pen.  I write it all down.  When I do this, nothing slips through the cracks because I have visual and tangible evidence of what I have to do.  I have a hard calendar listing all events, all duties, all responsibilities.  Now here is the clincher… I have to check off everything that has been completed or accomplished. A simple check mark says a lot to me.  Even cancellations are marked with a line drawn through the words.  This simple act spurs my motivation and allows me to continue on my productivity path.  It makes me feel accomplished and empowered. I have control over what I do and what I need to do.ab

Another method is to speak the things I have to do out loud to someone.  If I say it, I have to do it.  If I tell my students they will have their graded essays the following day, then I have to get them graded and returned. My integrity and me word is at stake, therefore verbalizing my responsibilities is an act of commitment.

This is not to say that I do not falter or drop a few balls, because I do.  But because of the calculated steps I take, I am also able to forgive myself.  Because of the genuine concerted effort I have made, I feel proud of myself and in control.

This sense of control is the driving force behind quelling the feeling of being overwhelmed. Control and self-control are virtuous and what God wants for our lives.  I am the first to admit how much self-discipline I lack, but I am convinced that God wants me to at least try. I make myself do that which I do not find enjoyable.  I have to get uncomfortable  If I am trying to attain some sort of organized semblance and order in my life, my spiritual health will be better for it.  Therefore the whole process is a cycle. For me, it always comes down to prayer: I pray for motivation, I organize my responsibilities, I commit to a witness, and I implement a course of action and plan.

I hope that this little discussion motivates you to also seek Truth and turn to prayer to remove the lack of control from your life and search yourself for the motivation placed inside you by the Holy Spirit,

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Charla Ink Slingers Loss Respect Life

Old and Pregnant

old-and-pregnantI have known so many women who have experienced pregnancy loss and miscarriage. I never in a million years thought I would be one of them.  I had three children, three uneventful pregnancies, and I had reached the age of 44.  It was highly unlikely that I would get pregnant again.  I was past that time, despite still having regular cycles and no symptoms of menopause whatsoever.  Besides, we had gone nine years without getting pregnant.  We certainly had not been “trying,” but we always said we would accept whatever God gave us, so quite unlikely another child was in the cards for us.

I was at a conference out of town and was preoccupied and very busy with learning about the latest in Advanced Placement and just enjoying a little time to myself.  In the evenings, I finally got to spend some “in real life” time with my friends, Donna, Martina, Tina and others.

Any day now, I told myself. I sat by the hotel pool reading (quite a luxury for this wife and mom of three) semi-worrying that I would have to run to the ladies room at any moment.  But nothing;  I was asymptomatic– no cramps, no real moodiness, no adolescent break out. I told myself, not possible, any day now; I am just late, right? Though I was ordinarily like clockwork. I spent a final  evening with these wonderful ladies and almost asked for a ride to the drugstore to get a test, you know, “just in case”. Nah– not possible for this old lady; I’d wait until I got home to check for sure.  

However, something just kept nagging at me, so after walking to Mass that Sunday, the day I was headed home, I begrudgingly took a detour to the drugstore near my hotel.  I finished packing and took the test– just to make sure I had nothing to worry about.

Lo and behold! It was glaringly positive!

I was incredulous.  Not possible.  No way.  What??? Am I looking at this stick correctly???

I wish I could say I was elated.  I wish I could say this unexpected news overjoyed me.  I wish I could say this is what I wanted. Alas, I could say none of those things.

I can’t even describe what was going through my mind at that moment.  I am ashamed to say, I screamed at God, “What are You thinking!? How on earth is this a good idea?! Why are You doing this to me?!” I just can’t be pregnant!

All I could repeatedly tell myself is “I can’t do this!” “I can’t do this!”“I can’t do this!”“I can’t do this!”

I started doing the math in my head.  I would be almost sixty two when this baby graduates from high school.  I am just too old.

I told God to take this baby; I was not a good enough mom; I was too old and too tired for nursing, diapers, sleepless nights.  I was not to be trusted to give this baby the perfect, young, energetic mom he deserved. Oh why did I say this out loud for God to hear me?

“I can’t do this!” “I can’t do this!”“I can’t do this!”“I can’t do this!”

But I would have to do this.  I would have to trust God’s will, but I was not quite ready to do that.

After this melt down, I calmed down and got ready to leave. I went through all this by myself in a hotel room. No one to talk to, no one was around.

I got to the airport and called my mom. She is the only one I wanted to talk to at that moment.  I did not want to tell my husband on the phone, so I called my mom and told her.  I started to cry hysterically yet again, and my sweet mom says, “Why are you crying? This is wonderful. You’re having a baby!” To which I replied, “Mom, but I am SO OLD!” She kinda laughed and said “Oh yeah. That’s right. Well, that is okay.  It’ll be just fine! You should be happy.”  At that moment, I felt if I had been listening earlier, these were the exact same words that God was saying to me.  Thank you Lord for repeating Yourself loud and clear through my mother’s words.

I arrived back home and as my husband picked me up, I handed him the test stick. He reacted quite the way I did, but with less hysterics. He was worried about all the same things I was worried about. Talking to my mom gave me some clarity and I attempted to instill some of it into my dear husband. Eventually, that is what happened.

Everything fell in place and we started to make the beginning preparations: find a doctor, take the vitamins, pick out names… My husband and I actually agreed upon a boy’s and a girl’s name pretty quickly. My sons were elated, especially the younger, and my sister and her family were ecstatic. We chose to wait to tell the nine year old until things were further along, but sadly, it wouldn’t get much further along than a few more weeks.  

We were heading out to the lake cabin with the family one weekend when the end began. At about nine weeks, I woke up and started spotting. I tried to keep up hope, but I knew two things in my heart: one, that it was baby boy, and two, that he was gone.

His name is Liam Phillip.

I cried and cried and cried. Not the hysterical cry from when I was overwhelmed with the pregnancy news, but a low constant sob that still hasn’t quite stopped. I cried for my beautiful boy, who I just knew would look like my oldest son, who I knew I would never meet, never hold, never nurse. I cried in regret for the words I spoke to myself and God, not trusting Him or myself.  I cried that my kids would never meet their brother.

Blood tests confirmed what I already knew and I saw each result, spaced days apart,dwindle down to nothing. I returned to work after summer break, keeping this pain at bay, until not just one, but two, coworkers announced their news: One was about to be a new mom, and she shared my due date; the other’s wife was due days before that. Her baby was born later, but his was born on my due date.

It has been six months since my baby should have been born, and many emotions are at play for me. I am still in mourning to be honest. I am mourning not only my baby boy, but I am mourning my fertility.  We do not dare “try again.”  I could not bear to try to replace him with another.  As this one wasn’t planned to begin with, I reacted horribly, and besides, what if I lost the next baby, and the next, and the next…? No, I can not go through that again. The doctor said it probably happened because these things just happen. There is nothing wrong with me medically, except that my eggs are pretty old.  Yes, there is something sad about probably not being able to bear anymore children. Every month is filled with dread, regret, yet relief.  This is one of those areas that I have to truly put my trust in God.

I am starting to talk about him little by little.  Many friends did not know I had a miscarriage, so they do not know quite what to say.  Here is what not to say to a 44 year old woman who has lost a baby: “It’s best anyway.  There was probably something wrong with it.” “You did not want to have a baby this late in life anyway!” “You are lucky to have kids already.” “You already have three perfect kids. Why tempt fate? It could have been abnormal.”  While all these things could be true, I am a mother through and through. No one can tell me I am better off without my baby.

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Charla Ink Slingers

Patience, please.

impatienceI once went to Confession years ago, and as I divulged my many transgressions, I still felt helpless. Typically, I am at peace and have a sense of relief after having let out all that baggage and a cathartic sensation overtakes me, but not this time, not until Father spoke. It wasn’t words of absolution that did it but a question: “Why do you continue to ask God for patience? Ask God for understanding, and then patience will come.” I didn’t quite understand what he was suggesting, but I felt trust in his words. It did not seem too far-fetched and rather reasonable, so I was left with something to ponder. When he gave me absolution, I thought more on this idea and tried to apply it to my life.

My difficulties with patience usually stem from frustrations with dealing with my children. My kids don’t listen to me at times, or they get easily distracted. They aren’t ready quickly enough or they won’t stop talking.  If I put myself in their world, their understanding of their situations, I may gain this patience.  Understanding in this way is most definitely empathy. If I empathize, I become a better version of myself.  I use the gifts the Holy Spirit has given me to be what God envisions for me and to continue on such a path enables my salvation. So maybe my children will in fact be my golden ticket to Heaven.

The mother of one of my students mentioned that her son said he was not going to pray for patience, because then God will give him the opportunities to be patient! Isn’t that so often the truth! We are afraid of the hard work.  We shy away from the challenges God gives us, expecting our lives to be simple and carefree, and quite frankly easy.  Patience isn’t easy; it is quite difficult because we want to focus on ourselves and not on others. We want it NOW; we want others to cater to our whims; we want our way. If we accept people and situations for what they are, it sure brings a sensation of peace, so isn’t patience worth it?

heavenSometimes, I truly feel like I do not actually desire patience. If I am patient, doesn’t that mean I am not enthusiastic or I do not feel emphatically enough about things? Won’t patience hold me back from greatness? Or keep me from pursuing my dreams? Will it make me complacent or content? All these things are actually true, but only in one sense. We should not be patient with ourselves when it comes to a relationship with God. We can’t afford to wait until we think we are ready to be good and holy and virtuous. God is patient with us because He loves us, but if we are patient with a lower standard of holiness for ourselves, it could result in our loss of salvation.  Heaven is too important.  Our Lord is too precious to us to let a relationship with Him slip through our fingers. If there is a time to act, it is now.  We cannot become patient with others; we cannot show empathy to others if we put off a rapport with God.

 I will seek understanding, which will bring patience, which will arouse empathy, which is an important gift of the Holy Spirit.  This level of holiness will help us gain God and gain Salvation.

What tries your patience and what can you do to understand and become empathetic?