Archive for vacation

Back with Zombies

Posted in America Magazine with tags , , , , on August 13, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

city-zombies-wallpaper_After being away for a little vacation, today I return to the normal routine. During my time away a lot of things have unfolded in the news and around the world that are worth discussing, but I figured that something a bit lighthearted might be the best way to kick things off again here at DatingGod.org. So here is my latest column for America magazine, which was published this past week in one of the summer issues. The original title of the piece is “Faith, Hope, and Zombies.”

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Zombies. They’re everywhere! At least that is what our contemporary cinematic and popular literary market would have us believe. With the current onslaught of zombies on the various platforms of video games, comedy shows, books, film and even spoofed classic literature (for example, the 2009 book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), the undead have infiltrated our cultural psyche in a way that is rivaled only by the popularity of their more seductive supernatural cousins, the vampires.

A few years back, Jack McLain, S.J., wrote a thoughtful piece for this magazine (“A Need to Feed,” 5/17/10 Web only) about the cultural significance of the increasing zombie attacks and mentioned the then-recent publication of Max Brook’s book, World War Z, which was released as a film this summer. While zombies aren’t typically “my thing,” I saw the movie in no small part because of the surprisingly positive review offered by David Denby, The New Yorker’s film critic, who asserted that “‘World War Z’ is the most gratifying action spectacle in years.” Who could pass up that opportunity?

To my surprise, the film awakened in me an unexpected interest in the cultural phenomenon of recent zombie popularity. Why was it so pervasive, and why had I succumbed to being bitten by this mythic monster?

There has been a good deal of reflection in recent years on the social criticism latent in the zombie genre that is not to be found in some other supernatural or mythical subjects. Some critics have seen a link between society’s obsession with unbridled consumption and a psychoanalytic reading of the zombie as a non-living specter of Freud’s theory of the “death drive” that haunts our collective desire for control and meaning. Theories like this are indeed compelling and helpful; but, being particularly interested in theology and spirituality, I am more drawn to what the cultural obsession with the undead might say about our faith.

Most frightening about zombies, the theologian Kim Paffenroth observes in his excellent book, Gospel of the Living Dead (2006), is that, “unlike aliens, robots, or supernatural beings, such as demons, the distasteful and horrible aspects of zombies cannot really be discounted as unhuman, but are rather just exaggerated aspects of humanity.” Zombies do not embody an enemy from without. As Ola Sigurdson writes in a recent article in the journal Modern Theology, “zombies represent the alien within us.”

Classic zombie films, like those by George Romero, typically portray the surviving, non-zombie humans as scrambling to respond to the effects of the zombie attack rather than to address its causes. And the means they use tend to be individualistic and violent. Not only do the zombies reveal us at our worst, but the behavior of the surviving humans does so as well.

Both of these characteristics are eventually reversed in “World War Z.” The story focuses on the quest to find the cause of this outbreak, which leads the protagonist around the world. As a way to address the root of the problem, a violent defense proves useless, but—spoiler alert—weakness saves the lives of those who survive. Jana Riess, who blogs for Religion News Service, sees something Christ-like here: “Weakness becomes strength. Actively choosing weakness—especially when every cell of your body is screaming to cling to power instead—leads to life. Huh. That sounds a whole lot like Jesus.”

If we look at the compulsive, consumptive, individualistic and violent aspects of the undead and those who fight them as an allegory for our human sinfulness, the zombie genre might serve as a reminder of what it means to have true life, and have it to the fullest. What makes us “a whole lot like Jesus” is addressing the causes and not just the effects of systemic sin in our world, like poverty or violence; embracing community instead of succumbing to the temptation to care only for ourselves; choosing weakness and humility instead of defending our desire for control, power and security.

Zombies can remind us of what lurks deep within ourselves, but stories about resisting them also offer us cautionary tales of how not to be human when trying to overcome our worst selves.

Toward a Theology and Spirituality of Rest

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on February 10, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

SleepAlthough not everybody is a fan of his methodological approach to theology, his particular conclusions, or his theological starting points, I know of no one who would not readily admit that the late German theologian Karl Rahner was a genius. Even if you disagree with him for substantive or unsubstantial reasons, Rahner’s insight and impact, even to this day in the field, is really unmatched in the contemporary Catholic Christian academic (and pastoral) world. I thought of this particularly prodigious thinker this morning when I read Tony Schwartz’s guest column in the New York Times titled: “Relax! You’ll Be More Productive.”

Schwartz’s starting points are the counterintuitive reports from scholars and scientists in recent years that suggest working harder, longer, and more is actually less productive (and less healthy, duh) than striking a balance that values rest, vacation, exercise, and sleep as much as hours in the office, emails answered, and the like. He contends that this applies on the macro level, such as the need to sleep more each night and take more and lengthier vacations throughout the year, as well as on the micro level, such as the cycle of work habits throughout the day.

I thought of Rahner because among his more philosophically complex engagements with the theological tradition, the German theologian was also interested in exploring the theological significance of what he called Alltägliche Dinge or “everyday things.” Among these everyday things were subjects like work, walking, seeing, laughing, eating, and — you’ve guessed it! — sleep. Rahner asks:

Is there such a thing as a theology of sleeping? Most certainly there is. In a wonderfully earthy way, scripture first of all confirms our own experience with sleep: It talks about the solid sleep of the one who has worked hard, the destructive sleeplessness of the one in charge of many things, the excessive sleep of the lazy one, and similar things. But scripture also sees in sleep an image and reflection of a deeper reality of human existence: the image of death, the image of dead and deadening dullness, the image of being mired in sin. Also, scripture sees in sleep an inner relaxation, where a person is receptive to the instructions of God (as if given by the Lord in one’s sleep), a time for meaningful dreams that can clarify God’s directions and call and that can perhaps make one conscious of what is otherwise repressed.

Surely Rahner is correct — Matthew’s account of the Gospel practically begins the whole story of Jesus Christ with sleep and dreams as we read that Mary’s husband “Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him an a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit'” (Matt 1:19-20).

Likewise, we know of Joseph’s role in interpreting the Pharaoh’s dreams in Egypt and the ways in which dreams and sleep intertwine at various points in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.

Rahner explains that it’s not all about dreams and visions, but that the simple, human, and necessary physiological exercise of sleep is itself a religious and spiritual practice. He wrote:

Sleep is an act of trusting one’ deepest inner conviction, one’s own certainty, and the goodness of the human world. It is an act of innocence and of consenting to the elusive.  If one approached sleep like that, not as a merely dull succumbing to physiological mechanisms but as an agreeable and trusting acceptance of an utterly human act, then falling asleep could be seen as relating to the inner structure of prayer, which is equally a letting-go, an entrusting of one’s own convictions to the providence of God which one lovingly accepts.

In other words, it is about awareness and surrender, about trust and recognizing the presence of God in our lives at all times, in all places and, as Ignatius Loyola made popular, “in all things.”

Rahner’s notion of sleep was elicited by Schwartz’s column because there is an overlap and complementarity in their respective points — Schwartz from a physiological and productivity standpoint, and Rahner from one of theology and spirituality.

Rahner pointed out that, “sleep is peaceful and relaxed, a communication with the depth in which needs to be grounded and rooted whatever makes us free as human beings, all conscious planning of life, if we want to remain whole or wish to be.”

Schwartz says something very similar, if in a different way.

Our basic idea is that the energy employees bring to their jobs is far more important in terms of the value of their work than is the number of hours they work. By managing energy more skillfully, it’s possible to get more done, in less time, more sustainably. In a decade, no one has ever chosen to leave the company. Our secret is simple — and generally applicable. When we’re renewing, we’re truly renewing, so when we’re working, we can really work.

He gives an example from his own professional life of how balance and a different approach to work, centered on valuing rest, sleep, and renewal along the way. He talks about the experience of writing his first two books and then his more recent publications and the difference that switching from a “binge” mentality of unbridled work (something I see far too often in academia with colleagues, as well as studious undergrads, spending endless hours and even days/nights in libraries and in front of computers) to a sense of a cycle for awake-activity akin to that of our sleep cycles. In other words: working in cycles of ninety-minute intervals. Schwartz explains:

I’ve systematically built these principles into the way I write. For my first three books, I sat at my desk for up 10 hours a day. Each of the books took me at least a year to write. For my two most recent books, I wrote in three uninterrupted 90-minute sessions — beginning first thing in the morning, when my energy was highest — and took a break after each one.

Along the way, I learned that it’s not how long, but how well, you renew that matters most in terms of performance. Even renewal requires practice. The more rapidly and deeply I learned to quiet my mind and relax my body, the more restored I felt afterward. For one of the breaks, I ran. This generated mental and emotional renewal, but also turned out to be a time in which some of my best ideas came to me, unbidden. Writing just four and half hours a day, I completed both books in less than six months and spent my afternoons on less demanding work.

What he says resonates well with me. I’m often asked “How do you do so much? Do you ever sleep?” and my instant response is always, “Yes, I sleep quite a lot, actually!” The presumption on the part of the inquirer being that in order to “get a lot done” one must work all the time and through the night, and so on and so on.

That “sleep quite a lot” is, of course, relative. I know that I need at least seven hours of sleep a night and I work hard to make sure that I get it. More sleep makes me tired, less sleep makes me tired. I also never work nonstop for hours on end, nor have I ever. This is not some sort of prescient virtue, rather it’s just not something I have ever had the patience to do, even if I wanted to do it. This is why I found Schwartz’s narrative and supportive data so affirming — I’ve been accidentally doing what he’s talking about here for most of my life.

Working in short spurts of an hour here or 90-minutes there and the accompanying breaks, not so regimented but more naturally present, might be the way to explain my own experience. Until reading this column, I’m not sure I had a good answer to the question “How do you get so much done?”

I think there is a curious connection here between the theological reflection of Rahner on sleep and Schwartz’s proposal about rest and productivity. If we live in a graced world where we are always already in communication with the God who is the ground of our very being, perhaps the Benedictines have it a little off. Their traditional motto has been Ora et Labora, which essentially means balancing one’s life between “prayer and work.”

But, what if, following Rahner and Schwartz, the real motto of our lives should be striving to recognize that the Ora comes in the balance between Operis et quietis, “work and rest.”

Photo: Stock

Dating God Podcast #16 — Live from Newfoundland, Canada!

Posted in Dating God Podcast with tags , , , , , , , , on September 15, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

This episode of the podcast is dedicated entirely to the diaconate ordination of Br. Frank Critch, OFM, a friar of Holy Name Province. A native of St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada, Br. Frank received permission from the Order to have his ordination to the diaconate in his home town by the Archbishop of St. John’s, Newfoundland in September 2012, just a few weeks after his profession of Solemn Vows as a Franciscan friar. Fr. Dan Horan, OFM, and a handful of other friars from Holy Name Province were able to make the trip up to the Great North to celebrate this important milestone in the life of a friar. Dan spoke with a number of people in Canada around the time of the event and presents this special edition of the podcast from Newfoundland. Enjoy!

Listen to the podcast online (streaming)

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes (iTunes website)

Heaven is Not a Vacation

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on October 17, 2011 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

This reflection is now available in Daniel P. Horan, OFM’s book Franciscan Spirituality for the 21st Century: Selected Reflections from the Dating God Blog and Other Essays, Volume One (Koinonia Press, 2013).

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