Sunday, June 01, 2014

Renewed... and a reading recommendation

It had been far, far (vastly!) too long since I was last on a retreat, and so last (Memorial Day) weekend's Florida State University Catholic Student Union alumni reunion retreat (the group holds them every two years), held in Orlando, was so needed. I feel centered and so spiritually refreshed (or, as my friend Marie said, "It's like spiritual Draino."). I was so blessed to have this community when I was in college, this group of people who prayed for and guided me, who do so still.

Mass daily with plenty of adoration and praise and worship time, talks and fellowship with nearly 200 other CSU alums and multiple children (It was an amazing witness to life. One of the hotel employees asked one of us if the group was at the hotel for a baby convention) who attended from all over the country was priceless.

Having just been on the retreat, I found a neat connection in the book I'm almost finished reading. It's called "These Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body," by Emily Stimpson. I read her other book, "The Catholic Girl's Survival Guide for the Single Years," when it came out two years ago and really enjoyed both it and her smart, relatable writing style, so when I found this one, it seemed like a no-brainer for several reasons. First, I still can't seem to manage to get beyond the first 125-odd pages in ToB and, secondly, Stimpson's book takes Saint JPII's work and (while not neglecting the sexual aspect) filters it toward practical, everyday behaviors to show how our manners and how we treat others, our work and how we do it and how we eat and dress also reflect the theology of the body: the body's ability to communicate who we are and who God made us to be.

Anyway, at the end of Chapter 3, which addresses ToB and work, Stimpson tacks on an addendum called "The digitalization of leisure," which talks about how the way we relax has changed. "A century ago," Stimpson writes,

"a good day of rest for the average American would have involved a long walk, a fine dinner, some neighborly conversation, and perhaps ... some music on the piano or fiddle. There might have been dancing. Or storytelling. Or perhaps and outing to a museum or play. ... and enjoyed in the company of others."

She goes on to say that today the opposite is often true. That we come home from our jobs and spend time watching screens, and our leisure time has become more passive than active and often spent along. I'm guilty of it, certainly, of dropping on the couch to watch a movie after work instead of challenging myself to be more creative or tackle postponed projects.

Not that she says all this technology is bad. Far from it:

"... although those technologies can lead us to encounters with the true, the good, and the beautiful, they are, by their nature, mediated encounters, not embodied encounters, with sonatas, paintings and evening chats ... Our greatest experiences of joy are never mediated. They're always experienced from the body. ... Media technology is at its best when it facilitates rather than replaces embodied experiences of truth, beauty and goodness, and when it helps us become creators rather than consumers during our leisure hours. ... Media technology can never give us the same kind of joy that comes from being on the mountaintop or hearing our favorite band live. It can't forge the bonds of love and friendship forged over a good meal and equally good wine. It can't mediate the glory and love and presence of God to us that being with someone or at some place in our bodies can."

This lengthy end note on the book's chapter struck me because I'd just spent a weekend rekindling some old friendships usually maintained online, but also because I'm about to embark on vacation with my mom to Scotland. It's a place I've wanted to visit for so long, have read so much about. You can look at all sorts of pictures of a place in books and online, but I'm beyond excited to have the opportunity to really experience it, as Stimpson say, in an "embodied encounter" shared with my mom. Like the movie "Up," "Adventure is out there!"

As for Stimpson's book, it's only 160-odd pages and a quick read packed with goodness, and I encourage you to read it.

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