Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Going through the motions? (VC)

In the epic Buffy the Vampire slayer musical episode "Once more with feeling", Buffy, who has been recently resurrected from death by magic, notices that she's lost her passion for the fight against Vampires, that she's merely going through motions of the day to day grind. Of course, this being the musical episode, she actually sings about this predicament of hers, giving a rather light and amusing tone to this complex feeling. You can watch/listen to the full song on youtube:


 However, the idea of going through the motions is not one to be taken lightly. I suppose there are many out there who do this without losing too much sleep, but for those of us who go through this process and are painfully aware of it, this type of  moment can become a crisis . In a way, it's my realization that I was more or less going through the motions as a lay person that helped me begin considering that I had a vocation with the Jesuits. I never wanted a career or a profession, but something that would be a passion for me. Something that I could define with my character, rather than having it define me. Something I could dedicate every ounce of my energy to. With the Jesuits, that something became a someone in the presence of Christ, and through my love for him, I'd like to believe that I could be full heartedly committed to whatever task or work I'm assigned or asked to do.

  At the end of my first 2 weeks in this country, I could not be more far removed from that state of mind. One of the reasons I was reluctant to come here for the summer was that I have no desire to be a full time student of anything except social justice and theology. These are two things that I imagine I'll be doing for the rest of my life. Being asked to study anything else is a challenge for me. I lost the patience for being a full time student who spends his days memorizing stuff a long time ago. It's why I've appreciated the degree I'm doing in Toronto: There are no exams so far, so the learning is entirely done by a process of lots of readings and writings. I seem to be more in my element in this format of learning.

 Despite my not so subtle reluctance, I plunged into to the Venezuela experience not half heartedly at all. I realize that this is an opportunity to really perfect my command of this language, and the prospect of having a 3rd language that I have a good command of  is quite exiting, plus imagine all the great authors and poets I would be able to read  in the original language if I dedicate myself to this process of learning! So I definitely got into this. However, as the days went by, and our experience became a bit more taxing -lots of visiting, interacting with people in a foreign language, community time, classes and the overall process of dealing with this new place..- my will to study this language dropped significantly. I lost the energy to learn I seemed to have in the beginning , especially when we we learning more heavy duty theoretical Spanish stuff, like the linguistics of the language, or the more technical bits. Our professor was keen on making us name parts of speech, function of a word etc...It's not the part of language learning I'm so fond of, so  my mind kind of  shut down when we were dealing with these last week and the previous week.Studying a language -after almost 10 years of a rest from doing that! I'm  definitely rusty- was challenging enough without this stuff. So my response to it was to enter a kind of a rut. Even in my prayer life. I either began skipping or shortening prayers. This was sometimes out of laziness, but often out of exhaustion. Not being able to wake up early enough to pray in the morning, too tired to do it in the evening (Our masses here are usualy at 5:50 am. My body has gotten used to being up in time for Mass, but it still is exhausted during the rest of the day, and siestas often take the place of prayer and work!) This for a Jesuit is not uncommon, but I feel  it's one of the worst things that can happen to us. It takes us  away from God and turns us inward. So as I saw my study habits going down the drain, and my prayer life was being negatively affected,  I realized it was time to bring the wisdom of our founder, St Ignatius.

 Ignatius teaches us (Jesuits) that  in our daily life, we must discern our actions very carefully. We may come to a moment in time when we are drawn to a certain action that is bad for us, or drawn away from one that is good for us. In such moments, our founder encourages us to act against our impulses or desires (A process he calls Agire Contra. This is a term we heard all too often at Novitiate!), something I need to start doing in a very serious way here.  Oddly enough, one of the answers to my struggles was that...I needed to go through the motions. Yes, learning Spanish grammar, and spelling rules, and remembering where the accents go on words (and the names of each type of accents) can really suck, and yes, the time table here is a little rough sometimes, but if I don't think about that, and go through the motions, the hope of me learning something more concrete here will be much stronger. So, in other words, in order to survive this rut, I need to enter into a different kind of rut, where there may not be as much passion for the work, but at least the work is getting done.
 I've tried to avoid this way of doing things all my life. Throughout my academic years, I'd hear people talk about our student years as a job, where you have to get the work done, and move on to the next task. that's very efficient and practical and it works well for many things in our world, but that's not me. My McGill years were about the learning and the passion for it. IN THEORY, my Jesuit years have been about that as well. The problem is, after  almost 10 years of being in the day to day grind, I've developed many bad habits that interfere with my true love and passion for my growing faith and the increase of knowledge that this entails.
It's a work in progress I suppose. As for Venezuela...Poco a poco -little by little-. That's all I can hope for.  I have another 4-5 weeks to really commit myself to this language learning process through our classes, and another month of living in a community after that, so this experience is only still begining. And I can't deny that there are frustrations and obstacles, but nor can I let those shape my entire experience here. That's also very Jesuit: We must accept our shortcomings, and continue our journey with them, knowing that God embraces us so completely and lovingly, not despite these shortcomings, but in a way, because of them. Because through them, we are made meek and small, and hey..that's a good thing. The goal is that we don't run away from that meekness, but accept it as a gift from God and continue turning our loving hearts towards him and towards the world. Amen.

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