To eat in a monastery refectory is an exercise in humility; daily, one is reminded to put communal necessity before individual preference. While consumer culture speaks only to preferences, treating even whims as needs to be granted (and the sooner the better), monastics sense that this pandering to delusions of self-importance weakens the true self, and diminishes our ability to distinguish desires from needs. It's a price they're not willing to pay.
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A short-lived fascination with another person may be exciting-I think we've all seen people aglow, in a state of being "in love with love"-but such an attraction is not sustainable over the long run. Paradoxically, human love is sanctified not in the height of attraction and enthusiasm, but in the everyday struggles of living with another person. It is not in romance but in routine that the possibilities for transformation are made manifest. And that requires commitment.
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Like faith, marriage is a mystery. The person you're committed to spending your life with is known and yet unknown, at the same time remarkably intimate and necessarily other. The classic seven-year itch may not be a case of familiarity breeding ennui and contempt, but the shock of having someone you thought you knew all too well suddenly seem a stranger. When that happens, you are compelled to either recommit to the relationship or get the hell out. There are many such times in a marriage.
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For me, walking in a hard Dakota wind can be like staring at the ocean: humbled before its immensity, I also have a sense of being at home on this planet, my blood so like the sea in chemical composition, my every cell partaking of air. I live about as far from the sea as is possible in North America, yet I walk in a turbulent ocean. Maybe that child was right when he told me that the world is upside-down here, and this is where angels drown.
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I just don't understand how you can get so much comfort from a religion whose language does so much harm.'... I realized that what troubled me most was her use of the word 'comfort, ' so in my reply I addressed that first. I said that I didn't think it was comfort I was seeking, or comfort that I'd found. Look, I said to her, as a rush of words came to me. As far as I'm concerned, this religion has saved my life, my husband's life, and our marriage. So it's not comfort that I'm talking about but salvation.
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the imagination works not so much through inspiration as through perseverance. One must slog through the false starts, spot the wrong words and hold out for the right ones, and above all, be vigilant about staying on the path of revision, no matter how uncomfortable or even painful the journey might become.
Poets are immersed in process, and I mean process not as an amorphous blur but as a discipline. The hard work of writing has taught me that in matters of the heart, such as writing, or faith, there is no right or wrong way to do it, but only the way of your life. Just paying attention will teach you what bears fruit and what doesn't. But it will be necessary to revise--to doodle, scratch out, erase, even make a mess of things--in order to make it come out right.
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But it is daily tasks, daily acts of love and worship that serve to remind us that the religion is not strictly an intellectual pursuit, and these days it is easy to lose sight of that as, like our society itself, churches are becoming more politicized and polarized. Christian faith is a way of life, not an impregnable fortress made up of ideas; not a philosophy; not a grocery list of beliefs.
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We shortchange ourselves by regarding religious faith as a matter of intellectual assent. This is a modern aberration; the traditional Christian view is far more holistic, regarding faith as a whole-body experience. Sometimes it is, as W.H. Auden described it, 'a matter of choosing what is difficult all one's days as if it were easy.
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Maybe the desert wisdom of the Dakotas can teach us to love anyway, to love what is dying, in the face of death, and not pretend that things are other than they are. The irony and wonder of all of this is that it is the desert's grimness, its stillness and isolation, that brings us back to love.