I’ve been pushing myself way too hard. It takes the focus off of what I should be doing. What I intend to do, so long as those intentions are aligned to my worldview. And it is draining a lot of money out of my bank account. Money that could be redirected at other needs. I just need to stop it.
I’m not here to impress anyone. Except for God. I’m not into possessions. I don’t have to have fancy furniture or live in a designer house. I want to have as few possessions as possible. I want to be outdoors most of the time. But I’m not buying into the whole modern concept of rampant consumerism. My life will consist of prayer, relationships, and shared experiences. I can make a pot of coffee and share it with friends for fifty cents. But I do want my home to be a peaceful, clean place. I don’t care if it is in style. The countertops don’t have to be granite. The silverware doesn’t have to match. It isn’t a church, it’s a house. I can do dishes by hand. Use natural cleaning products and not have many possessions to take care of, so they aren’t a burden. But I will take care of the possessions I do have. And if I’m not using something, I’ll give it to someone who will use it.
Went to Mass and increased my offering significantly over what I usually put in. It’s coming out of the “I quit smoking” fund. Watched the Colts lose to the Jags and made authentic New Orleans red beans and rice. I rode my bike over to my brother’s house and took him some beans and rice, along with some fatback and collard greens. He had already eaten lunch but had them for dinner. He texted me that they were amazing. I have only eaten one meal at a fast-food joint since the first of the year. I was sitting with my mom and aunt Donna, her identical twin – they go to McDonald’s every day for lunch – and just got a McChicken and a large iced tea. It was less than three dollars. I still don’t want to give them my money. I’d rather eat semi-healthy things at home, made mostly from whole foods, along with cultural things based on our agrarian past (and future, I hope). I’m only eating Ezekiel bread, oatmeal with nuts and raisins or fruit for breakfast, trying to eat a large salad every day, or a greens-based smoothie. Collards are my first choice.
I want to rebuild connections around the dinner table by doubling down on cooking at home from scratch whenever possible.
Another cold and cloudy day. I stayed up too long after work last night and didn’t sleep well. As I was walking the dog at Paradise Spring after lunch, I was thinking about stuff. Literally, all the stuff I own. I own too much stuff. I need to be intentional over the next year about what I’m keeping, what I’m giving away, and what I’m getting rid of. It isn’t about selling stuff to make money, rather the whole principle of what it means live a good life. I was really into the happiness thing for a while, consuming more than my fair share of pop-psych books and academic writings on happiness and positive psychology. Everyone wants to be happy, right? Roses and rainbows, all the time.
Life isn’t like that. I think what people are looking for is meaning, not happiness. Today’s answers are shallow and they all feed into the economy. We derive meaning from our careers. We’re told that money and stuff will satisfy our needs. But beyond subsistence, our needs can’t be met by stuff. Stuff gets in the way of existential meaning and real happiness. The ancient Greek philosophers said that it is unnatural and soul-damaging for a person to have more possessions than he needs. Jesus went even further, and the Church, when certain of her members aren’t watering the message down, reinforces His message.
Earthly attachments take our focus off of spiritual things. Not just some far-off heaven, but here. Today. Right now. The love of wealth and of ownership numbs us against God’s presence.
When I say that I’m committed to living intentionally, I mean according to a worldview. It is a worldview that takes its meaning from the heart of the Catholic Church. More specifically, it is a Carmelite interpretation of the world and my place in it. I have increasingly been living each day according to a rule and a regimen. But I’ve had setbacks. I haven’t coped well during some difficult times. Its one of the reasons I’m making this effort for the entire year of 2022. I’ll talk a little bit each day about the different aspects of the rule and regimen, as I bump up against them.
Anyhow, I went to Kroger and bought a pre-packaged salad and a banana to eat while I’m at work, and took sixty dollars out in change since it is the 6th and I’m stowing away that ten dollars a day in cigarette and Snapple money to redirect it toward charitable purposes. I broke a commitment when I got the salad, too. All of the plastic waste. Plastic fork in a cellophane wrapper, plastic bowl with a plastic insert holding the toss-ins. Plastic cup of dressing. If I’d planned ahead, I could have made a salad with all of that stuff and put it in a reuseable bowl. Intention. I’ll get it eventually.
Am I an environmental wacko because I’m chastising myself about using disposable plastic? It depends on what you mean by environmental and wacko. Anyone who is willing to live intentionally is probably seen as a wacko by most of the world. And climate change and deforestation aside, I’m against waste in general. I’m against poisoning and polluting the water, air, and soil. Because I think we can do better, and everyone would be better off for it, especially the poor who, worldwide, are the ones who are relegated to living and working in the most poisoned and polluted places.
I have been a bit of a self-licking ice cream cone. But this year, I wanted to conduct an experiment in intentional living. We’ve all been sort of beat down by two years of this coronavirus altered landscape, and much of the messaging to individuals has focused on taking care of oneself. I’m finding that my needs are few. You could find that in Marcus Aurelius and the pagan philosophers before him. You’ll also find it in Aquinas. He is happiest whose needs are fewest. In few possessions we find that we’re freed to enjoy all things.
Tawnya will be going in for foot surgery, probably in February, and I wanted to get her something for her birthday, in January, to help her fill the time when she’ll be off of her feet. I found a neat little Kalimba, which is a 17 key finger piano, and thought they were neat, so I got her one. I had to go out today and pick up wrapping paper and her birthday card. I picked up a few things for Valentine’s Day, too, since they were starting to put things out. And that got me thinking about Easter on April 17th. Not too far away
So, wouldn’t it be neat to all get together and decorated Easter eggs like we used to when the kids were little? I also found some jute Easter baskets with bunny ears for cheap, and I want to spend some time thinking about what to put in each one of them.
Living intentionally isn’t about glorifying myself. It’s quite the opposite. I believe that everything that happens, whether I understand it or not, has been allowed by God. That doesn’t mean that God made it happen. It doesn’t mean that he’s got me under His thumb and sometimes just wants to see how much I can take. It doesn’t mean that at all. Living intentionally is about reacting in such a way to the things that are bound to happen in everyone’s life, that every day becomes an opportunity to grow into betterment, into the person it is possible for us to become. Maybe it’s the person we were meant to be.
Truth is, I don’t know myself very well.
What is a rule of life? It speaks to those things which I mean to do intentionally this year. I’m taking a cue from Penseés by Blaise Pascal. I’m living the faith radically for one year to see what the effects will be. As a Catholic in general, and specifically as a Carmelite (confraternity of the Brown Scapular), my rule looks like this: First, I have an active role to play in society. I’m not a cloistered religious. That doesn’t mean that contemplation takes a back seat to activity. From contemplation is where activity derives its power. So, descending into the wine cellar each day with the Beloved is the top thing on my agenda. That is the fountain of Divine love. That is the furnace where the Saints go to be purged of their imperfections. That is the chair next to a best friend, where presence is enough and words are often unnecessary.
The result of this contemplation is empowered love. Natural love infused with Divine energy. And with that it will be possible to live out the two greatest commandments, on which all the Law and the Prophets hang: To love God with my heart, mind, soul, and strength. And to love others not just as much as I love myself, but as much as Christ loves me. The second is impossible without time spent in the wine cellar, because you can’t give what you don’t have. You can give natural love, and that might be fine for a while and in some circumstances, but we always revert back into selfishness. At least I do. When God loves, it is never diluted or diminished. Ours can be. It often is. We’re fickle beings. Irrational and easily upset. We play favorites. God loved the world into existence with the same love with which he loves you. Undiluted. The love with which the Father loves the Son is the same undiminished love with which He loves you.
I’m called to love God with everything within me. When God reciprocates, it’s like the sun to my candle. Each of our hearts is more precious and beautiful than a Hope diamond. I got to see the Hope diamond when it was on display at the Smithsonian in Washington DC. It was in a glass case with a bright LED light shining down on it from the top of the case. It is hypnotizing. That something from the natural world, shaped by human hands, could be so breathtaking is doubtful until you’ve seen such a thing in person.
Our hearts are made of natural stuff, too. Some use the analogy that we’ve allowed that diamond of our heart to be coated in the vilest of filth and slime, and that it, therefore, can’t be lit up by God’s love until it is cleaned up and put in its proper setting. I look at it kind of differently.
We are right where God wants us to be, right now. All eternity has led to this very now. We’re skipping forward in time, but also in eternity thought that is harder to perceive. It is God who extracts the diamond of our heart from the rocks that surround it. God takes the initiative through His constant calling and pursuit. He applies a hammer here, a chisel there. All of us have also willed God, to some extent, to keep applying the chisel, knocking away more dirt and more rock. As we continue to bear our hearts to Him, opening it up to the strokes of the chisel, saying to Him, “chip away, Lord, make mine look like yours,” He will continue the work. The dirt and rocks are those things that we place like a barricade before God. It’s being “not who we are.” And for many of us, this “not who I am” is the person I see every day in the mirror. The dirt and rocks surrounding the half-exposed diamond of my heart are those things that don’t matter in the end, but I’ve inflated them to such a level of importance in my life that I feel naked and ashamed when the Lord comes to walk with me in the cool of the evening. So I hide myself, and God says, “If you were to let a single ray of my radiance penetrate into the diamond of your heart, you would consider all of these obstacles you’ve placed before me as broken toys in a child’s nursery.”
God’s love radiating into us also radiates from us if we allow it. It mixes with our natural love, making it personally ours in a sense. But it also means that we can allow God to love others through us. We have to participate.
That is the core of what I want to do intentionally, keeping in mind these three guides:
Those are the things that I want to radiate into the world. I can’t do it by myself. I wasn’t created to do it by myself. It would be like trying to signal an astronaut on the moon with a flashlight. My brightness simply doesn’t shine that far. But with the glory of God radiating into my heart like sunlight into a diamond, I’ll light this valley of tears up like a disco ball.
A woman seeking entrance to a cloistered prayer community was taken in as a postulant. She was assigned her cell, given her meager habit, shown around the chapel, and the day ended with a visit to Mother Superior. Mother explained that all the women were required to keep a strict vow of silence and that the vow was to be enforced that very moment. Mother said that once a year, each of the sisters was allowed to speak two words, but only to her, one on one. At the end of her first year, our woman was brought before Mother Superior to speak her two words. “Hard bed,” she said. At the end of her second year, she said “cold soup.” At the end of the third year, “no books.” Finally at the end of her rope by the end of the fourth year, she stormed into Mother Superior’s office and screamed, “I QUIT!”
Mother superior composed herself and said, “I’m not surprised. You’ve done nothing but complain since you got here.”
Carmel also requires silence, but not to this degree. Out in the world, speech and communication are essential. But we overdo it. Intentionality in speech looks like this: First, we remember that we will be judged (for good or ill) for every word that comes out of our mouths. We are not to swear oaths, but let our yes be yes and our no be no. We are to refrain from gossip and even small talk. Chit chat. And before we say anything, we should ask ourselves four questions.
- Is it true?
- Is it said in a kindly way?
- Is it helpful?
- Am I the one who should say it?
Looking back over my life, I’ve violated silence so many times, so grievously, that it now pains me. Most of the things I’ve said might have been true, but was often said in an unkind way. Much of it wasn’t helpful. A lot of it was gossip. And in the vast majority of cases, I wasn’t the one who should have said it. When you speak less, each of your words has more impact, if you follow these rules.
Silence also counters the endless noise we experience in the modern world. We inwardly crave silence, but are so far removed from our true selves, that we are loathe to be alone with ourselves, fearing that we might not like the quality of the company.
Good morning. It got down into the single digits last night. When I got off work at midnight, the air was so cold and dry that it instantly froze my nose hairs. Do you know that sensation, that “smell?” It isn’t something I’d want to experience every day, but it definitely placed me at the beginning of an Indiana January night.
You might not know what a rule and regimen are. They’re tools that some people use to track how they’re doing spiritually. It isn’t a panacea, but it can be helpful to quantitatively track how you are doing. Caveat: It isn’t helpful in qualitative measurement. As part of a regimen, you might dedicate certain times of the day to prayer. It won’t guarantee the quality of the prayer. Your heart may be closer or further away from God at a given moment. Keeping the regimen will only ensure that you pray, not how “good” or “bad” your prayer was.
My regimen is broken up each day into the canonical hours. That is, the times when priests, vowed religious, and some parts of the laity gather together for common prayer. This is usually the Divine Office, but may be one of the smaller offices such as the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I strive to pray the Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Night Prayer each day. In the Little Office of the BVM, that would be Matins and Lauds, Vespers and Compline. It requires a short commitment when I wake up (OOR, Morning Prayer), after dinner (Evening Prayer) and before going to bed (Night Prayer). Also, as part of my regimen, I pray five decades of the Rosary for specific intentions, and keep a prayer list of people and their needs. Each time I pray the Rosary, I’m praying for the people on my list. Some days, a particular person may be more at the top of my mind than on other days. The others on the list don’t suffer for that. I prayerfully read through the list often, amending the intentions based on the latest contact I’ve had with them. I keep a list of answered prayers, and when someone dies, I move their name to my “Book of the Dead” and my specific intentions for them are different than they were when they were alive. I try to remember them at Mass, too. Sometimes I’ll have a Mass said for one of them.
Part of the regimen also entails contemplation, or what I describe as “going into the wine cellar” to use the imagery from the Song of Songs. My goal is to shut out all other distractions and simply be with God. And finally, I devote time to spiritual reading. Meditating on the daily Mass readings is one way to stay connected to the Church throughout the week, liturgical seasons, and the whole year. You really don’t have to overdo the spiritual reading part. After all, the faith is meant to be lived out there in the real world full of hurting people, not completely barricaded in one’s prayer cell. (Do you have a prayer cell?)
Unless you’re a cloistered contemplative, your mission as it were, is out there in the ordinary everyday world. You know, the one in which you can most deeply alter the lives of others by your service and presence? All life is local. Needs are local. That is where the majority of our time, efforts, and money should go. The further away you get from “home” the more that a sort of scaled help kicks into gear. Think of crowdfunding. Do you know what that is? Someone posts on GoFundMe or another such site that a little girl is receiving cancer treatments and it has affected the family’s finances in a dramatic way. Any donation is appreciated. If that message went out only to a community of ten thousand, each person who gave would have to give more in order for the gift to have any impact. But zoom the camera out to the whole country. Everybody gets it. Cancer is awful. The family is suffering. 5,000 people give $10. The family now has $50,000 to help cover expenses.
Look at the concept of Peter’s Pence, the annual Vatican appeal for each person in the Catholic Church to give “a penny” toward the pope’s efforts to ameliorate the poor. There are a billion Catholics currently on the planet. If each one gave a penny, there would be $10 million dollars in the Peter’s Pence fund each year. So that is my regimen.
I made an impulse purchase before the holidays. I don’t like to blame it on my ADHD, but it probably played a factor. I have some coping skills but they don’t always kick into high gear. But maybe it can be illustrative as a way of living intentionally. You see, I don’t want to hurt people with my purchasing decisions. Liberal-schmiberal crazy talk, yeah? Okay, but I’m not a Democrat or a Republican. In fact, as a side note, the one thing that the past five years or so taught me is that the whole system is on the brink of collapse. You can supply your own evidence as to why, I won’t waste your time here.
The purchases? A Breathe hoodie and sweatpants made from royal alpaca by a company called PAKA Apparrel. Okay, I got their sky blue crewneck sweater, too. They’re super soft, being made of alpaca hair. I love the business model that Kris Cody adopted when he founded PAKA. Every aspect of the products are down traced to their origins. Alpaca is one of the softest, warmest fibers on the planet. It isn’t oily like sheep’s wool, and it is hypoallergenic. It is also moisture-wicking and naturally odor-fighting. And since they’re basically hair and not wool, you can wash them with shampoo!
I don’t wear anything else but PAKA for more than six months of the year. It is equally comfortable for lounging around the house, heading out to do errands, or laying down five or ten miles of boot tracks in the forest. There’s nothing about Kris’s products that abuses workers or denies them fair compensation. And the resources are completely renewable. Yeah, there are still problems with supply chain drag on the environment, since they’re all sourced and manufactured in Peru and have to be shipped around the world. I wish they could be produced locally, but that isn’t possible. Some things will always have to be imported. Bananas grow in the tropics, so if you’re going to eat them, you’re eating their food miles, too. The Andes mountains are alpacas native environment. The same can be said about the artisans Kris works with to knit these clothes. These indigenous women have names and homes and families. They sign a tag on each garment they make. And they are paid fairly for a valuable product they create.
That is the only type of consumer transactions I want to make in my life. Intentionally. Every day. And if I can’t, I’ll do without. It isn’t always about finding the best product at the cheapest price. That’s how human beings get plowed over by corporate interests. It is what allows child laborers to glue your running shoes together for twenty-five cents an hour in a sweatshop.
Every purchase is a moral decision.
For me it is, anyhow, starting this year.
The plain truth is that it is for everyone, each time you transact. There are moral questions that should be answered before the exchange. We just don’t ask them. We actively avoid them so we can live with ourselves.
No, you don’t have to get the Big Box special price on every deal. With PAKA, I know I’m paying a fair price for a quality product. I know that the women who made my sweaters were paid well to make them. Does that make me feel good? Yes. So I bought the sweaters just to feel good about myself, right? No. I bought the sweaters because I needed sweaters. Kris allowed me to ask the big moral questions and click the Big Red Buy Button secure in the knowledge that the decision to purchase was morally licit. If my sweaters ever wear out, I hope PAKA is still around so I can order more from him and his team of textile artists.
The new year dawned cold and cloudy, in grand Midwest fashion. It was in the single digits when I got up. Last night we watched the ball drop in Times Square. We talked to Aaron and Brit for a little bit on the phone. Otherwise, we were watching movies, eating frozen pizzas, wings, taquitos, and the annual pan of bratwurst and sauerkraut. Where did that tradition come from? It was always there at Nana and Pap’s house when it was the NYE destination of choice. We listened to fireworks going off around town as Habibi lit out for the bathroom to cower in primal fear of TEOTWAKI. Her memory isn’t long enough, lacking the use of reason, to look backward to all the other times the world was ending with a flourish of noise and light and yet somehow kept rolling along.
But I’ve been thinking about how I’m going to use my money in the coming year. I’ve never been good with money. Sometimes I’ve been way worse, and sometimes not so bad, but never what anyone would consider great. And I haven’t been intentional. I’ve always been an earn and spend kinda guy. A guy who always put his own wants first. If I wanted something, I bought it. I break the bank with fast food, impulse purchases, and cigarettes. We’ll take a stroll down that side path in a few minutes.
I quit smoking today. My history with nicotine goes back to when I was twelve, smoking pilfered Swisher Sweets cigars with the neighborhood kids in the woods on the edge of town. Then in my late teens when I worked as an evening drive-time DJ at a tiny FM radio station. It continued on and off through my military career. I quit twice for several years. That last time lasted around seven years until I took it up again in October of 2019 while going through a stressful short sale on a house. I smoked a pack a day for two years and two months on the last go. I intentionally gave it up this time for a plausible reason. Plausible in the legal sense. Cigarettes are expensive. I was a daily buyer, usually at the little Marathon station down the street from my house. It’s managed by a family from India, and they’re super nice. But I would usually buy a coffee or a Peace Tea or Snapple along with the cancer sticks for a daily total of $10.
Ironically, in the self-licking ice cream cone sort of way, I found it difficult to contribute substantially to the collection plate at Mass each Sunday. I found it easy most days to contribute substantially to the tar buildup in my lungs, but not to my parish.
I’ve also been a connoisseur of the available fast food offerings in every locale I’ve ever lived. I probably spend more each week for fast food than we do on groceries, so that is another “outgo stream” running counter to my “income stream” that traditionally wrecks my finances.
I’m not going to do that in 2022.
I did the cigarette math in my head. Seventy dollars a week for combustible shredded foliage, or $3,650 a year.
What if instead, I put that in the collection basket each week?
Physical money is more real to me than online banking, so since no interest is going to compound, I’m going to take ten dollars per day out of my checking account and put it in an envelope. And I’ll come back here to report what I did with it.