What follows are the excerpts that stood out to me and my reflections on Elizabeth Scalia’s book Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Every Day Life, Chapter 4: The Idol of the Idea. Click here to read my other reflections on Scalia’s book. There’s more to read than my reflection contains. I highly recommend you check out the book for yourself.
“He was warning us that holding on to anything too tightly—our lives and the stuff in it—will prevent us from being able to open ourselves up to him.”
A young woman desired to emulate the poverty St. Francis. This balanced the love of things she admitted to having and was tempted to indulge. Desiring to be holy, I wondered if I should feel this way as well. As time went on, I knew I loved stuff. I did seek to eliminate clutter, to not own what I did not use. But each time we moved, I came to the same conclusion, I need this stuff; I have too much stuff. How I could I need it when other do with so much less? I felt guilty for my lack of detachment.
“Benedict said, instead of being a source of pride, it should be a source of humility, because it is better to need less. Every worldly, every thing you “need” is something else that can come between you and God.”
St. Benedict used examples of those who are unable to fast, as I have been through pregnancy and nursing, or those who need a nightlight to sleep, which would seem to some as a less obvious “need.” On a pilgrimage the young woman said she would travel like St. Francis, with a spirit of poverty. I decided I would do the same, in the spirit of poverty. My bag was twice the size of her’s! I thought to myself, to be truly poor, I will just use what I have; I won’t buy anything new or special for this trip. Hence the size of the bag. I shed some belongings as the journey went on.
Each time we move, I cannot believe the amount of stuff we own. But certain things I won’t get rid of because, anticipating future children, I would have to buy it again. We don’t have the funds for that. In my guilt of owning so much stuff, Elizabeth Scalia’s words and Benedict’s rules are comforting to me. I’m not wrong to want to need less, because it is better to need less. For years I told myself, I should need less. Now I understand that some people do, realistically need more. I don’t need my candle holders and all my trays, but I have needed a changing table because of back pain, a crib so baby can sleep in a quiet room, the millions of bibs because babies have little faucets just inside their heads that leak. I have needed the ridiculous amount of clothes because they span 50 pounds of weight that I put on and take off depending on whether or not I’m carrying someone inside me. That’s life. That’s a message I needed to hear.
And it turned out, I was not as bad as I thought. When we moved to a smaller home, it was not difficult to get rid of things. I saw that I am not as attached to things as I thought. I’m not trying to praise myself here, because my primary temptation is to condemn myself or be anxious, so these are important lessons for me. To see that I am a little closer than I thought to the way I think I ought to be, to the way I know it is good to be, detached.
But there is another area that could stand some growth.
Scalia writes this about Dorothy Day.
“Divesting herself of material things, she also rejected prestige, power, and office (Given her influence, her connections, and the high regard many held for her intelligence and energy, she could have had them.) She encouraged others to reject power and its trappings, too, because she knew them for the false gods of busy-bodiness and tyranny they were.”
I will ask myself, why do I want to step forward in my career? I love my job in a deeply, incredible way. I benefited from my education. We’re making payments on loans. We have all we need financially. Why do I want to advance? I know I want to be able to meet with clients for longer periods of time, and provide therapy for them, beyond the coping skill building and support I provide now. This is cause for my to examine myself. How much of it is for prestige or more money?
We can fall into worshiping a god of prosperity, setting up one’s retirement, make-a-buck, make-a-buck. On Sunday, the priest preached a message on prioritizing. Money can be replaced; possessions can be replaced, but time cannot be replaced. I looked at my husband as he held our baby. For us, for our state of life, for our financial status, our parental status, for the moment, I knew we were doing it right. We were answering the call as God has called us.