Updated: Sep 23
On the eve of autumn, I feel at a loss for words sufficient to express my gratitude. The dog days of summer are behind me, when I feared expiration for leaving the house without an electrolyte drink. The lawn is beckoning for its final cut of the year. Logs will soon be turned into kindling for fires in the pit and the hearth.
I understand, though, that my views are not universally shared. Some point to SAD as the cause of their unease, but I perceive that for most in the Western world there is a more artificial reason for their agitation. Since the paradigm shift that 2020 ushered in, I've noticed a cycle in the rhetoric that media outlets tend to employ to corral the emotions of their audience. The seeds of fear that were planted in the summer are brought to full blossom in the fall, so we're told, and if we don't do "something" then inevitably "we are looking at a winter of severe illness and death," just substitute whatever "illness" and "death" mean to you.
Before leaving for his next assignment, our previous chaplain said tongue-in-cheek that our chapel is one filled with conspiracy theorists. Now, I hold that anyone who is clued in to the news, no matter their political stripes, participates in this theorizing because in the manner in which the information is presented one is led to believe that all "the other side" does all day is meet in closed rooms and breathe together (com spirare) threatenings and slaughter against the elect. Having turned off these channels for myself since Septuagesima, I'd like to believe that I'm exempt from this label. But just the other day a friend asked me "So when do you think World War III is going to start?" and I foolishly took the bait instead of responding as C.S. Lewis would have:
If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.
Those sensible and human things have been my joy in these recent months. I try not to say that in an arrogant way, like that NO YouTuber who enjoys humble-bragging about taking an annual "fast" from the Internet one month out of the year to read The Brothers Karamazov and the like. But the olds are definitely better than the news. Thomas C. Oden summed it up perfectly when he said, "Once hesitant to trust anyone over 30, I now hesitate to trust anyone under 300." One of the aids that I've employed to keep from falling into a horror vacui situation are the Mediations for All the Days of the Year by Fr. Andre Jean Marie Hamon. I found the second reason of the first point of today's meditation especially apt for the topic at hand:
Useless thoughts are one of the greatest obstacles to our sanctification. One of the most positive marks of tepidity, says St. Bonaventure, is not to feel the evil which useless thoughts do to the soul. We allow ourselves to give way to curiosity, that is to say, to a certain kind of love of what is novel ; we inquire about all that passes, and we want to hear all kinds of news ; sometimes we give way to reveries of the imagination, which keep the soul in a state of continual distraction, fill it with a thousand foolish thoughts, occupy it with a hundred chimerical events and designs ; sometimes, lastly, we give way to excessive activity, which renders us uneasy and impatient and excites our brain, without our being able to make any progress. It is a little world of which the tumult amuses and dissipates us, where thoughts succeed one another without any order, are confused together and trouble us, render us unfit for prayer, for recollection, for self-examination, for the inspirations of the Holy Ghost, for the practice of virtues, which demand a mind at leisure with itself, a spirit of reflection. Thus day after day passes in distractions, without attention to God, without attention to ourselves, and often the devil profits by it to insinuate into the soul, under cover of useless thoughts, a thousand dangerous ones, in which charity, purity, and all the virtues run the greatest risks.
When I explained to a friend the reasons for giving up podcasts, I said that when I tried to meditate I felt the opinions of the commentators superseding those of mine so that I ended up thinking their thoughts and not my own. Though that sounds profound, it appears to me a conjecture. The Sage wrote, "The wise man will seek out the wisdom of all the ancients, and will be occupied in the prophets" (Ecclus. xxxix. 1). So yes, my thoughts are my own—and I will have to render an account for every idle one on Judgment Day—but they are formed by the words of those I listen to. As I continue to read the writings of those who can scribe no more in this life, I have before me the quip of the jovial G.K., "I tried to be some ten minutes in advance of the truth. And I found that I was eighteen hundred years behind it."