Revolt, Renew, Reform

I just read an article on habits, which basically noted that as we gain expertise and more advanced skills and practices, we will often end up actually regressing, because we’ve lost the “fundamentals”. The advanced stuff becomes easy, but the basic (and far more important) stuff is quietly withering.

This is something I have noticed in my prayer life. I tend to develop a set of relatively fixed prayers for regular activities, such as exercising, eating meals, reading the Bible, and going to bed. I like it this way, because I want to make sure that I always say everything that needs saying. As it goes on, these prayers naturally develop, being expanded and refined, and reworked again and again, aiming for a sense of completeness and symmetry, so that my prayer may be “perfect”. I also develop rules for what prayers to say each day, and when, and these too grow nuanced over time, including various technicalities. [I’m the kind of person who actually sort of loves rules, routines, and waking up early, and though Past-Me might have disdained that, I don’t care. The difficult thing is marrying this to my love for chaos and late nights… I oscillate in life.]

But after a while, these prayers grow old. I can say them easily, even in my head, while I’m actually thinking about God-knows-what. My prescribed and required prayers can become a duty and a burden, and get in the way of practices that might do me more good. I grow “pious”.

For this reason, every so often, I revolt against my system, seriously simplifying my prayer life. I return to the basics –just me and my God– and let everything reform from there. Many elements of the previous system are gradually reintroduced, and new ones too, and the complexity, beauty, and rigidity return, step by step, but with their centre restored to them.

 

vaticanii-image

I think this may be a near perfect analogy for what the Church was doing at Vatican II. The Church wanted to rediscover Herself, and return to Her first love. Her practices had grown elaborate and majestic and beautiful, but perhaps also comfortable and stifling. On the one hand, the religion was thoroughly encapsulated, but on the other, it was somewhat captured and contained. At least that’s the impression I’ve been given…

The Council set in motion a process of renewal, rediscovery, and reformation that’s ongoing. As Pope Francis stresses, ‘Time is greater than space.’ I think we can see this process at work both in the emergence of new practices and the re-emergence of old. The new wave of traditionalism should be seen as a fruit of the Council, to be celebrated with all the others.

On that note, I feel the need to briefly defend V2 against those who would claim it has borne bad fruit. There are those who have misinterpreted it, as being essentially a liberalising or dilution of the faith. But that would be as shallow as interpreting my personal cycles of reform and simplification, to my faith weakening, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. Externally, many things were temporarily shed, but only so that we could reconnect with what is truly essential.

 

But these are just my thoughts. What do you think? God bless!

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