Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Never Drop F-Bombs

At the beginning of Advent, just when nights are getting long, cold, and perfect for fiction, I decided that I wanted to read something classic and I found a collection of Jane Austen’s work for cheap in half-price books.

I began reading Pride and Prejudice.  I had never read it before even though I had seen the Colin Firth movie version multiple times, which is great, and the Kiera Knightly movie version, which is lousy.

Once I picked it up, I read it daily as much as I could. I never wanted to put it down. I finished it on Christmas day in front of a cheery fire knowing that I had a new book in my top ten list.  Austen’s writing is bright and makes me feel clean and hopeful.

The whole time I read it, I thought a lot about virtue and, specifically, I thought about the fruit of the spirit.  For Advent, Jonathan and I gave up cursing. It’s not that I really think cursing is bad thing. A well-placed cuss word can be just right at times.  But for people like us who are rich in words and poor in kindness, cursing is a gateway drug to over-anger. A dashed out curse word can take a little argument or a little annoyance and make it rage, like fuel on a small bit of kindling.  Trying to give up bad tempers altogether was more than we could tackle, but we could give up cursing. Since we cuss enough that we both do it without noticing even, having to simply slow down and think about what to say in situations of stress, conflict, or tiredness, helped us to be calmer and kinder.  Because of this Advent “fast,” December was full of thoughts and conversations about gentleness, kindness, patience, peace, and self-control.I come from a long line of bickerers. I have grandparents that through their decades of marriage honed bickering into a near art-form.  I have come to realize that knowing how to speak politely to family members, isn’t really something that comes naturally to me or that I’ve had much training in. Texans call a damn spade, a spade, which is a great thing that I don’t want to give up, but I wondered how to hold onto this kind of truth-telling and learn gentleness as well.  I really feel like, as embarrassing as this is, I need a tutor in basic civility and kindness in my home.  I found this in Austen’s characters.Elizabeth Bennett (and even Jane) are not at all simpering mealy-mouthed saccharine dolls. They are strong and opinionated. They understand themselves and the world around them. Elizabeth has this way of telling people around her that they are idiotic or obnoxious while remaining careful, respectful, and even polite. She is honest and authentic and yet kind and gentle.

Virtue, in Austen’s writing, is not bland, legalistic, or passive.  It is powerful, bold, and charming. Restraint does not diminish the honesty of a conversation, but allows hard truths to be spoken (about too much pride and too much prejudice) in a way that doesn’t belittle a person.

Austen knows that politeness and manners can be empty and shallow and a veneer for all kinds of vice. See Mr. Collins and his obsequious, over the top formality. But she points to another kind of disciplined civility in her characters that gives them, well, character.

I’m not about to start speaking to Jonathan in Victorian English, but a little bit more Miss Bennet (and Mr.Darcy) in our manner would certainly make the Warren Manor a more peaceful place.  I’m grateful for the tutorial in, as Austen would say,  “domestic felicity.”

Learning to Breathe.

As a part of the ordination process, I had to undergo psychological testing. I apparently passed, which simply means that I have no pathology that is bad enough to make a psychologist think I’d do substantial harm to a body of the faithful. However, I do have pathology . Regular, everyday, run of the mill pathology.

My pathology, according to this test and affirmed by my husband and I, has to do with sensitivity to stress. I’m extra sensitive to it. Specifically, I feel deeply and have a hard time letting things roll off my back. I need an unusual amount of space and time to process what’s happening inside of me. Also, according to this test, I’m lower energy than most people my age. This is no shocker. The main thing that the test showed was that being stressed or overextended manifests in my body. Everyone’s body and emotions are connected. Mine are super connected. Some wear their hearts on their sleeve. I wear mine on my shoulders and in my neck. So this psychologist (who I’ve only talked to for 2 hours) recommends that I meditate, get massages and/or learn body relaxation in some way (like yoga), and have a lot of time to take it easy. Okay, sign me up! In a myriad of ways–through my spiritual director, in prayer, in scripture, in my own desires, and now from a medical professional–it seems God is stirring up in me a calling to get still. Let go of control. Learn to breathe. Get to know, as this letter from the Abbott (which is the best thing I’ve read on this) says, “The scent of light.”

That’s what I’m wanting to learn this season.

There are a few challenges though:
First, practically, I’m a mom of a toddler who heads-up a growing ministry. I might desire to be the contemplative sort, but my life is a far cry from the monastic ideal. But I’m learning (slowly) to take what I can get. Stillness can be measured in very tiny spoon fulls.

We, as a family, are also taking some steps to carve out some time to be still and to be alone. I am very grateful that my husband is encouraging me to retreat (it is more work for him for me to do so). At the end of the month, I’m going on a day away retreat with these guys. I get to be alone with God for 7 hours without a baby and without a task list. Literally, this hasn’t happened in 18 months. I cannot wait.

Secondly, I am fairly addicted (and I do not use that word flippantly here) to activity. I fill up my stillness with distraction, internet voyeurism, or even really good things, like time with friends. The psychologist said to me: “You need to tell friends that you can’t hang out with them because you need to take it easy and stay home. And [this is the hard part] not feel guilty about it.”

Jonathan and I are hanger-outers. We are committed to community, and feel called to build community all around us. And I’m pretty sure my super-extroverted husband could be with people 5 nights in a row and wake up on the 6th day ready to see friends again. I, on the other hand, crave alone time. I often want to hibernate. I want to say to even those who I love and enjoy, “I’m sorry I can’t go to your birthday party because I have to stare at the ceiling in my house alone and listen to shadows.” But how often can you really do that and still have friends? And I love my friends. I need them.

The monastics get this better than I do. They understand that community and solitude are not opposite enemies but the truest of companions. They give birth to one another. Solitude keeps us from using community as a commodity- as a thing to take away loneliness or deliver us from ourselves. But Community keeps solitude from turning into isolationism and indulgence. I need both.

Like inhaling and exhaling. Both are indeed gifts from God.