| Greg Heille, O.P., his cousin and her son: taking energy from an old growth tree in the forests of North Carolina
On Good Friday and Holy Saturday, I attended the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer at St Dominic Priory here in St Louis. Each year I am drawn into Frank Quinn’s beautiful antiphons for Holy Week, and each year there are some difficult antiphons that neither the cantors nor the assembly get quite right. In daily choral prayer, we miss notes and make mistakes and (now that Frank is in his grave) nobody really seems to mind: we simply press on. This is often the point for me in Religious Life: we fall down, we get up, we press on. It’s not about individually being perfect. By pressing on beyond our imperfect selves into the imperfect dance that is community, we again and again and over time find our perfection in God.
For the past several weeks I have been taking an online course on parenting taught by Heather Forbes LCSW of the Beyond Consequences Institute in Boulder, Colorado. The course has to do with parenting children of trauma—and my dialogue partner is a cousin who has adopted a six year old (my godchild) who in the womb and in his early years has suffered the drama of drug addiction, adoption, and a major house fire. While children of trauma experience exaggerated fears and behaviors, we all experience what Heather Forbes calls “disregulation”: no matter how big or small our window of tolerance for the stresses life throws at us, we all reach our limit and we all get caught at times in fear and overwhelm when no amount of thinking will set things straight. When we are disregulated, we are not bad: we are overwhelmed. In these moments, we don’t need time out (judgment, control, consequences)—we need time in (a quality of safe relationship with loved ones, friends, co-workers, and community who love and care for us enough to assure us all will be well).
Just as in Good Friday Morning Prayer, a challenging antiphon pushes a cantor’s singing voice beyond its limit and the community carefully presses on while the cantor finds his pitch, so too in religious community, each of us falls out of step and back into step again, both throughout each day and over the course of a life. We see each other’s mistakes and foibles and worse sides in community because at the end of the day or in times of trouble community is the safe place to bring our stress, our limits, our crises, and our disregulation. Thanks to the rhythms and the people that constitute what we call the Regular Life, we re-regulate again and again and again.
It’s not about individually being perfect; it is about being made holy through the very human rhythm of Disregulation and Regulation. In the Regular Life, God is shepherding us into the perfect flow of that big Self beyond our little selves.