Strangely Symbolic

In the last week or two, I’ve been cleaning out and fixing up my childhood home so that we could turn that into our office for the new home health my parents are starting, and I’ve basically been fighting Operation War on Spiders (and other miscellaneous creepy crawlies). In any case, the building is basically more trouble than it’s worth at this point. There’s a huge tree in the front yard immediately in front of the house whose roots have been growing to the point of basically destroying the foundation. And with the destruction of this foundation, the house is showing visible signs of strain both inside and out: the walls are cracking and or literally coming apart at the seams; the floorboards are also beginning to separate from each other, exposing the cracks beneath; and the floor is largely uneven. Not to mention that with a prior storm (maybe hurricane, I don’t remember anymore), the chimney had been destroyed. And then yesterday we found problems with the plumbing.

In any case, last week I spent cleaning the 3 bedrooms and the living room/dining area. This included vacuuming up ever single freaking spider in sight and shoving the hose of the vacuum in crevices so that I could try to get the ones that weren’t. Yet every single morning, I would come back, and there would be new spiderwebs all over the rooms I just cleaned. It’s been incredibly irritating to say the least. In any case, we’re just patching up the house just so we can have it presentable for now until we get the money to demolish and rebuild.

Now I give all this back story because in looking at this situation and the current state that I’m in, I found a strange sense of symbolism in all of this. One of my latest spiritual breakthroughs was on the silent retreat that just happened a few weeks ago. And on this retreat, I found solace, security, and a really close connection to God under a large tree. Now at a time in which I am making an internal transition, I find it interesting that a large tree is destroying the house I grew up in, a place I used to call home.

That house holds years of childhood memories. More importantly, it symbolizes all of the attachments I have in my own self; i.e., all of the things holding me back from becoming a real man, the man I want to be. And before what I say gets misconstrued as me writing off the house as a symbol of all that is bad and evil in my life, that is not what I am saying at all. A lot of happiness happened in that house. A lot of pain happened in that house. LIFE happened in that house. Just like I have experienced a lot of happiness and a lot of pain as I’ve lived my relatively short life thus far. However, just as the house is being broken at the seams by the tree, the spiritual growth I am in the process of experiencing is beginning to break down the securities I have created for myself and used as a foundation. While this worked for a while, it is time to move on.

Now for another part of the analogy, the insect infestation. So the weakness of the material of the house has allowed the seal from the outside to be compromised with the breaking up of the foundation. So insects have found their way into the house, most significantly spiders. And with each cleaning, I would vacuum up webs, but the next morning, new ones would appear. Just as in this time, while I’m still making a sort of emotional and spiritual transition, the infestation of my own vices tend to build new webs for me to get caught up in even when I try to clean them up. My own weakness as a human being allows me to succumb to these despite my best efforts…er…best intentions, rather. Because most of the time that I cave in to these desires, it is out of spiritual laziness when I know what’s right and wrong, but still go through with it anyway. Which reminds me, I do need to go back to reconciliation to have a sort of spiritual extermination done and get myself back to good.

In any case, one thing that’s been bothering me lately is the fact that withing a month of that silent retreat being over, I found myself beginning to fall back into the old vices that kept hold of me. And as the continual appearance of spiderwebs has been frustrating on the home improvement front, the continual temptation of old habits has been just as frustrating.

But I guess just as renovating a home is no small feat, neither is renovating yourself. Then again, nobody said it would be easy; they just said it would be worth it.

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Reawakening the warrior

So one of the biggest things that struck me on the retreat was that one meditation on Saturday afternoon reawakened the warrior in me. This being said, I’m not going all religious zealot extremist on anybody. But I should probably still explain.

Last spring, I was a speaker for Longhorn Awakening 48, a Catholic retreat put on by college students for college students. The talk I gave was the resolution and commitment talk (more affectionately known as R&C), which is the last talk of the retreat and basically just a sort of “hey now that the retreat is over, take what you learned and use it.” For anybody that’s been on any retreat, all of them have that sort of sending forth talk.

So for my talk, I focused on the humanity of Jesus and that spirituality isn’t just this calm, serene, happy-go-lucky love fest. Now that being said, I feel as though I grazed the topic superficially as a combination of the nature of Awakening as a retreat that focuses on the community-building as a stepping stone to a deeper spirituality instead of the spiritual depth in itself and my own lack of deep understanding of the topic myself. But the idea was there: faith isn’t easy; life sometimes sucks, and it’s up to you to keep the faith alive and remember that God’s got your back. And my big analogy throughout my talk was that of a warrior Jesus. Ironically enough, the impression I leave people left some genuinely surprised that the image that resonated with me was that of a warrior.

Now that the backstory is out of the way, the meditation I mentioned earlier reignited that passion. It was largely about a call to arms by a beloved king and if you were to do that for a human king with no issue, how much more so with the King of Kings? Strangely, we had the same meditation at the end of the last retreat (which was right after I’d given that talk), and that meditation left me dry. But this time, something happened, something just clicked, and all of a sudden I was back in that place, wanting to explore, wanting to do, wanting to fight (not literally). For the first time in a while, I finally felt as though I had a cause to live my life. It gave my calling, my relationships, my life a purpose. That being said, I always “knew” that God is the center of my life and that He is the root of all that is truly good, but this was the first time in a very long time that I FELT it. And for the rest of the retreat, the warrior image permeated through it all.

Now soon after this moment of clarity, I was perusing the shelves of the bookstore at the retreat site and found this book on male spirituality. One of the chapters is about male archetypes, concrete images of the male faith lives, one of which is the warrior. Here is a bit about what Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos had to say about the warrior in From Wild Man to Wise Man:

The warrior is dreamt about in all cultures as the image of courage, persistence, stamina and devotion to a cause. And this image is obviously much needed and very good. He maintains appropriate boundaries even at cost to himself.

The section goes on to elaborate, but the main point I’m trying to get at is this: the warrior knows what he is fighting for, is driven to and has a sense of using only the necessary and appropriate amount of force to do so, and his loyalty overrides self-centered desires. This is an image I respect and admire because many times, I feel weak, I feel scared, and I flat out would rather metaphorically stay in bed asleep than awaken to the reality in front of me.

But something that was I was reminded of this weekend was that strength is not a lack of fear, but the courage to sublimate that energy to face the issue at hand. There will always be fear, uncertainty, and discomfort. But true strength and courage lies in the fortitude of ones faith; knowing that no matter what happens, we are protected by the “full armor of God” (Eph 6:11) and “can do all things in Christ who strengthens [us]” (Phil 4:13)