27 November 2017

In the Ballpark, yo?

The 8th of 15 in a Series of Meditations on the 15 daily intentions offered by members of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity.

I have an app called Twilight on my phone and on my Chromebook. As it gets dark outside, the app gradually shifts the color balance on my screen from a blue-white to a red. This is supposed to help the brain get ready for sleep. It also makes the screen get a little dimmer. In direct light (as, for example, on a bus) the combination of dim and red together usually equals black. So I sometimes find myself pausing the app so I can look at my phone.  If I leave Twilight paused for too long (I think it's a week) the app turns itself off and comes back only when you start it manually. Even then you have to unpause it: it's not sure you want it until you tell it you do.

We pray with intention for our power of Estimation: that we may quickly sense dangers to chastity and instinctively flee from them. And that we may never turn away from a higher good for "the sake of sinful self indulgence".

Estimation might sound like imagination. But imagination is less like estimation than it is wish fulfillment. Imagination is, "hmmm, I could do that. What would it be like if I did that? Oh, that would feel nice..." Estimation is along the lines of knowing at Noon, if I wait fifteen minutes, my watch will say 12:15, unless the watch stops or the world ends, or I die... but even in the latter case, the watch would still say 12:15. Estimation is not just a prediction, it's a good guess based on past experiences and the ability to read between the lines in a conversation. It's not "evil imagination," but rather a safety valve. 

To know the difference, listen to your internal dialogue. The conversation with imagination usually runs like this: "Hey, if we do that, we might get this other thing! Whoa really? That would be awesome. Might be a sin, so like... but fun, right?" The conversation with estimation runs like this, "I think doing that would be a bad thing. It might even lead to sin. (Which, in my case, is usually followed by:) Nawww. I can stop before it gets that far...

I feel that my Estimation kicks in a bit too late to stop things, to be honest. So this prayer makes perfect sense. But in reality my Estimation is usually dead on - it's my listening skills that need help. Your mileage may vary, of course. But it's the hearing and following of that danger signal that's important. Socrates said he had an inner voice that always said, "No" at the right times, but the voice never said "Yes". 
You have heard me speak at sundry times and in diverse places of an oracle or sign which comes to me, and is the divinity which Meletus ridicules in the indictment. This sign, which is a kind of voice, first began to come to me when I was a child; it always forbids but never commands me to do anything which I am going to do.- Socrates' Apology 
Socrates was usually sad when it spoke up - but yet he always followed the inner voice. I find the less I listen to it, the weaker it gets. Like the app I mentioned at the top of the post, if you leave it in pause mode for too long it turns off - meaning not that it goes away, but rather we can't hear it any more. Like Socrates, I must learn to always hear that voice and do what it says.

Now, did you catch that part about higher, more difficult, and more honorable goods? How often as a kid did I really enjoy sitting in the corner reading! Reading is a good, seriously. I devoured books by the stack! Often (at least once every couple of hours, to be honest) I'd be so engrossed in reading that I couldn't hear Mom call me to a chore. I'm not making that up as an excuse: my focus was so great that sometimes Mom could shake my shoulder and scare me. At those times, though, I was missing a higher good - honoring my parents - by indulging in a lesser good - reading and learning. I find the pattern repeats: that I may willingly do something easy over and over without doing the thing that needs to be done now.

The Monastic Fathers of the Egyptian wastes say that we should be so loving, attentive to the higher good, that we should even lay down our psalter if our Brother comes calling at the door of our cell in prayer. For the prayers will wait: our Brother is Christ present to us here, now, and perhaps in need. I thought of this recently when a friend took me to a Church filled with homeless people who were sheltering there doing a rain storm. The parish knows how big of a crowd to expect for each Mass, so there are a certain number of pews reserved, but the rest of the space is given over to hospitality ministry - even during services. The Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ, present, living, and breathing, is venerated all over the building.

The higher good may call us away from a mundane function at work (in which we feel comfortable) into a project or function where working with outers we may have a chance to evangelize. The higher good may call us away from a comfortable life of prayer and quiet cats to the life of a monastery, or  missionary, or even just caring for parents in their dotage. 

The voice of our Estimation may point a way from sin, something bad, or it may point to something better rather the good we are doing now. But it will never point to the easiest, most comfortable thing, until we are so trained that we find the following to be the easiest thing. The longer we listen, the more control it, that inner voice, has: even though it never can override our free will. The whole purpose of free will is to train it to do things. In this case, the training (like in the gym) is to do something that makes one, ultimately, stronger. But it is a struggle, again, like the gym. We want to lay in bed, but God wants us doing things. It's an ascetic struggle: a podvig, a jihad. The monks are holy warriors in this case, fighting against the demons and sin, but we are called to holiness and struggle in our daily life as well. 

This holy, inner voice that always says no, as it were - no to ease, no to indulgence, no to sin - is the claxon sounding the next battle.

If we listen.

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