Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Prisoners of Love

I wonder if the reason that some who seek comfort or confirmation in the Catholic blogosphere are outraged when they find blogs like this one, is the commonly-held myth that everyone is exactly like oneself.

Sometimes I fear that I have little in common with many of my most admired colleagues and co-authors on these pages (though of course I could be wrong about that, too).  I still mull over the accusation of the erstwhile suitor who denounced me in an email after reading a post here that he found insufficiently anathematizing of Obama back in 2008 -- an accusation that alluded to the "unspeakable crime" I'd committed against my own unborn child.  I do not deny the crime aspect of it, and I say this not to defend myself: but not everyone, even cradle Catholics, grows up knowing that abortion is a crime, much less an unspeakable one, and I was one such.

Not everyone's parents marched in pro-life rallies; some marched in the opposite direction, to a place where the bumper sticker that reads "You can't be Catholic and pro-abortion" would have been met with real incomprehension.  My father, for instance, was not only glibly and openly pro-abortion, as well as pro-pornography, while my mother suffered silently by; he was also a drinker and a philanderer, and during fights on these topics my mother would sometimes, in a dramatic gesture whose symbolism could not be lost even upon young children, throw her wedding nightgown out the window (I think she would collect it later, after things had cooled down somewhat).  And there is many a church in which abortion is never mentioned at all (I can't recall a single bus going down to Washington in January from my own childhood parish, for example, though it was very much involved in the Sanctuary movement).

Suffice it to say that if you grew up in a family in which all its members loved God and each other, and if you had the added benefit of receiving good catechesis, you should really consider yourself extremely fortunate.  You might also consider that those you see embracing positions of apparent evil often scarcely have any idea that they are doing so.  It's easy to forget that evil rarely displays itself in all its ugliness.  On the contrary, evil almost always appears as if it were good, and had good ends in mind; if it did not, a scant few people would ever consciously choose it. 

It would be so much easier to love one another if everyone really were like oneself.  But I suppose if it were that easy to love, it would not be such a dreadfully painful struggle to try to be a Christian.

As for me, I thought that if I got pregnant M. would love me.  Then, when he offered it as the only possible solution to our predicament, I thought that if I had the abortion he would love me.  I had no idea at the time that (as it later emerged in marriage counseling) seeing me in that state of abjection and woundedness had in fact, or so he said, inspired him to love me.  It was too late; I never trusted him again, though I did marry him; but I suppose a love whose building blocks were desperation, need, misguided passion, and the sacrifice of an unborn child must have been doomed to failure from the start.


Enbrethiliel said...


Didn't Servant of God Fulton Sheen say that the job of an evangelist is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable?

When I come here, I read about the mercy of God in the life of someone whom others might have completely given up on--and I can see why that can be both reassuring and unsettling.

PS--Word verification is "mishear"!

Pentimento said...

I sort of regret writing this post, E., and I wonder if I should close down this blog too. Maybe it goes too far.

Rodak said...

No. For heaven's sake neither regret this post, nor consider taking down your blog: there is truth in it.
In addition to the poem I linked yesterday, I had previously written another, also inspired by the thinking that your blog--and the work of the poets you turned me on to--have given rise to. I think that its subject is appropriate to what you are struggling with here.
Please have a look at it and tell me what you think.

Enbrethiliel said...


Perhaps you could take it down and save it as a draft, just so you can revisit it later? This is for you even more than for anyone who might stumble upon you.

Pentimento said...

I don't know, there may be too much wallowing going on, which is hardly helpful to anyone. I don't want to be either a victim or a scold.

I like the poem, Rodak, and it's easy to forget that Isaiah calls Lucifer "son of the morning" (Isaiah 14:12), and he was said to be the most beautiful of all the angels. It would just be no contest at all if sin appeared as hideous as it really is.

Rodak said...

Thanks. As my poem is meant to suggest, if we all kept it bottled up inside, the only art the world would have could only accurately be categorized as "diversion" or "entertainment." That would be comfy as-all-get-out, but it would be banal.

elena maria vidal said...

Please do not take your blog down! You have a lot of good things to say... and you say them well!!! I have linked to many of your posts!

Pentimento said...

I may just go on hiatus. I'm not sure yet.

Rodak said...

I just put up a new post on my blog related (in my mind) to what we've been discussing here. Given your current state of indecision about the future of this site, I didn't provide a link, or name your site. But I would be happy to go back and do so, with your permission.

mrsdarwin said...

Oh, please don't go quiet. You are an apologist for charity, and we need more of those. And, a reminder to those who have the benefit of having had an easy upbringing that there is more to true religion than picking nits. (I recently saw online some people speculating on what an upcoming surprise announcement from the Pope might be, and the banality of the answers took me back: "an end to communion in the hand!" "he's going to abolish girl altar servers!" As if the man who wrote Caritas in Veritate has nothing deeper to say to the church...)

Pentimento said...

I guess the crux is that there is a fine line between being an apologist for charity and being offensive to the sensibilities of people of good will. I think I need to work on staying on the right side of that line. As I've mentioned here before, this blog began as my online diary, and, as these things happen, it eventually took on a readership made up of people I'd never met, which was not how I'd envisioned it. If it seems the blog is becoming harmful rather than helpful, I will need to reconsider the whole enterprise. I am going to pray about it. I sort of wish that it only had four readers, most of whom were related to me, again. But I am happy for the friendship and kinds words of all of you here.

Rodak, I love that Simone Weill quote. I am going to dig up Waiting for God again.

BettyDuffy said...

P, as a frequent sufferer of blogger's remorse, let me reiterate what the other commenters have said--if it helps, remove a post, but I agree absolutely that your writing IS an apostolate. It very frequently helps me to reevaluate my thoughts IN FAVOR OF CHARITY. I understand the desire to back off here and there, but I personally have benefitted greatly from your voice and would hate to lose it.

Pentimento said...

Thanks, B. I do think I could be more circumspect, since I have no idea who is reading this anymore. If I knew it was just the people who've commented here today, I wouldn't feel so much blogger's remorse, I suppose.

I'm not going to take this post down, because if I'm going to be brutally honest about everything, I might as well not stop at my own shortcomings. And I'm pretty sure that my brother who used to read here is no longer doing so, since he now thinks, based on a post awhile ago about gay marriage, that I'm not only "anti-choice," but "anti-gay" as well, and so have strayed much too far from the liberal orthodoxy in which we grew up for him to bother with this blog. Sometimes it's not only easier, but also more tactful to be anonymous, I guess.

Darwin said...

I'm kind of shocked and appauled that someone would send you angry feedback about your blog, seeing as you're one of the most personal and charitable bloggers that I follow.

Pentimento said...

That's very nice of you to say, Darwin, but I have actually received comments that had me crying for months.

Anonymous said...

Pentimento, the personal biographical nature of your posts is what makes them valuable.

You can get the theory of building a post-abortion life in many places on the net, but to see it being done in practice, day by day, is better.

I can see, though, that the tension between your confiding posts on this blog and your now more public life in a small town, must be growing.

You must do as you think best.

But - thanks for the soul music.


Anonymous said...

Mark Shea has had blogs dedicated to hating him, mocking him and picking him apart. People who only know him from the Internet have contacted his pastor and told him that Shea needs to be pastored (or something). Rod Dreher also has had blogs dedicated to him in a negative way and has had to deal with death threats and harrassment for years (going back to his time writing for the NYPost, but continuing to his time in Dallas - from Muslims and gay activists)Dawn Eden was told (indirectly, in her blog) by Enbrethiliel that she should drop the "secondary virginity" guise and start referring to herself more accurately as a "reformed slut".

Whether any of these people "deserve" this or not is another question - some certainly have abrasive natures and probably attract it, and maybe even enjoy it. Who knows??? But when you write, you have to be tough - and with you, just remember haters aren't responding to you as a person - they have no idea who you are. It's not you. It's probably something in *themselves* they're angry about.

Lisa Schroeder, lurker

Rowman said...

I just came across your blog tonight via The Western Confucian. I think your post is a very good wake up call for those of us who had a more Christian and less secular upbringing.

What you decide to do about a hiatus is your decision. This post though is needed and appreciated.


Pentimento said...

Thanks for coming out of lurkdom, Lisa, to comment. I'm sure you're right, and I appreciate your words.

I want to clarify, though, that the "repentant slut" comment about Dawn (who is my son's godmother) was made by Seraphic Single, and merely quoted by Enbrethiliel.

And, Otepoti, I think I'm just as anonymous in small-town-dom as I ever was in New York . . . :)

Pentimento said...

Thanks, Rowman, and welcome here.

Mac said...

Well. I can't think what to say in the limited time I have at the moment. Suffice to say that this is one of the six or eight blogs that I read regularly. I greatly appreciate your honesty, being in a somewhat similar reformed & repentant situation. I'm sorry it opens you to attack.

Emily J. said...

Can I add my voice to those who would miss your honesty, charity and vision? Though there be a few prickly types who provoke, there are probably more penitents out there taking hope from your stories and offerings of beautiful finds.

I like your note about the fine line between being an apologist and being offensive to people of good will. It is a sorrow when you have family members whom you love and enjoy, but because certain subjects can't be talked about without agreeing to disagree, a distance remains, however slight.

Rodak said...

It's not you. It's probably something in *themselves* they're angry about.

Lisa makes an excellent point. The defense mechanism referred to by psychologists as "projection"--seeing that which we despise in ourselves only in the actions of others--is very strong in some individuals.

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks for clarifying that Lisa misquoted me, Pentimento, but I must add that she was right about writers needing to be tough. Some of my favourite advice about writing comes from another Lisa--the Romance author Lisa Kleypas--who tells us to "Be an armadillo!"

An armadillo is very vulnerable under its shell, but that very necessary shell is bulletproof. (If I remember correctly, literally bulletproof.) There's no contradiction between a soft heart and a tough hide.

I'm also slowly starting to understand what it means to have anonymous readers, people you never know have been reading until they pop out of lurkdom to say that a certain post was really, really bad . . . or hurtful . . . or even (and I received this charge) evil.

To which I usually reply: Where were you when the posts were supposedly good? or Chill, dude! I don't even know you! (The "evil" remark did shake me up for several days, though, and I actually checked with someone that my doctrine was sound.)

While I don't feel the sense of consideration for these anonymous readers that I would feel towards more active and regular commenters, the former must imagine that some sort of relationship exists between us if they can feel betrayed by a new post. Yet I don't think you owe them anything, any more than Paul Sheldon owed Annie Wilkes anything in Stephen King's Misery. (Will I get into trouble for this analogy? LOL!) You share your writing with all readers for free; there were never any strings attached.

Pentimento said...

There's a tricky relationship between blog readers and writers, as you suggest, Enbrethiliel. We don't know each other, and yet we are honest with each other in ways we might never be if we had the same level of acquaintance in real life.

In the end, I don't want to write anything that would harm or scandalize. Because this is, still, my online diary, I feel the need to be more circumspect about what I put up here, seeing as I have no idea who will read it.

elena maria vidal said...

Pentimento, I see your blog as truly a pentitent's blog in that you reveal, with humility and mourning, the scars of your past. You do so anonymously, with nothing to gain. This is a powerful witness to the young who may be tempted to stray, while it gives hope to those who have also fallen and struggle to rise. You likewise demonstrate a strong grasp of our Holy faith. You are a brilliant and educated woman with so much to offer other Catholics in understanding the richness of their Catholic culture. You write well, another rare commodity. If people attack you, it is out of jealousy. Just ignore them, delete their comments, and go on.

Karen E. said...

I, too, hope that you will not take the blog down altogether, though I understand how you're feeling.

Re. this post in particular, I don't think the tone was uncharitable, simply forthright. I, too, came from a pro-choice family, and grew up in a completely secular environment, and it's simply a different world, and one that we all benefit from talking about. I've had people tell me that they never considered what it might be like to grow up without Christianity, and that it's an eye-opener to consider that pro-choice proponents could think that what they are doing is a loving choice (for the woman.)

My own blog writing is somewhat limited by the fact that when I started my blog, it was mainly a homeschooling blog, and my daughters and a number of their friends read it. I don't tackle meaty issues, much as I'd like to, for that reason. There are things my girls simply don't need to delve into yet. Whereas you so articulately note that evil disguises itself as good, I merely note such with a pipecleaner craft. :)

But this isn't about me -- I'm just thinking that blogs meet different needs, for both readers and writers.

There's such a need for honest, charitable voices, and I find your voice to be just that.

Pentimento said...

Wow, Elena, thank you for your very kind words. I only hope that I might live up to them.

Pentimento said...

Thank you, Karen.

I want to emphasize that I did not grow up in a secular family, but in a dissenting Catholic one.

I think a lot of orthodox Catholics don't know that there are believing Catholics, my father for instance, who think it's totally okay to espouse dissenting views, and were essentially validated in this by post-conciliar Church. And yet my father venerates relics. All I can say is, there's a lot of scorn for what we don't know much about, and we have to seek to understand and to love where it's more natural to vituperate and curse.

Pentimento said...

"Evil can appear to be cute." LOL! And isn't it the truth . . .

Karen E. said...

"I want to emphasize that I did not grow up in a secular family, but in a dissenting Catholic one."

Yes, true, but my poor sentence construction would lead one to believe that I was assuming otherwise. :/

"All I can say is, there's a lot of scorn for what we don't know much about, and we have to seek to understand and to love where it's more natural to vituperate and curse."

Yes. Amen.

Anonymous said...

I have been reading your blog for a few months, and I can't say how thankful I am to have stumbled upon it.

I grew up in a nominally Catholic family (despite my father's more Orthodox foundation) that is incredibly bent towards academia (I'm 24, and should have "at least" had my Masters in Systematic Musicology and/or Cognitive Neuroscience and Music Theory, "at this point".) The scales were always tilted more towards the latter. My own personal journey went from the Catholic church as a child, to a Protestant one as a teenager, to a Mennonite-"emergent" church currently as a young adult.. and I have in the past six months or so been very seriously considering the path to "reversion".

I have been doing a lot of reading in the process, and your blog remains one of those that I come back to consistently. It is something to find a woman speaking eloquently from a place deeply rooted in her faith that has also experienced the world outside of ideal upbringings. I certainly can not identify with a large swath of the Catholic blogosphere, but I can find hope in yours.


Pentimento said...

Welcome, NB. I'm glad you've found something worthwhile here.

A few of the more visible Catholic bloggers and commentators sometimes appear to forget the old adage that "the Catholic Church is a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints."

And we have musicology in common too, though I'm no theorist . . . :)

Clare Krishan said...

May this lurker never be a malingerer (as in lingering with malicious intent)!

I found JPII's distinction between "memory and identity" helpful myself to integrate my personal history pre and post "lapsed" status (cradle Catholic, single mom, now married Grandmom)

Acts of purification of memory such as the making amends of a financial nature you mentioned earlier are all very good disciplines. But there is the risk of becoming an occaision of sin for others addicted to (forgive the blunt turn of phrase) "penitent porn" ie attracting a readership who gratify themselves in the personal holiness department without personal participation, who practise a sort of voyeurism if you will. There is a lot of that kind of thing on so-called "orthodox" religious sites.

I enjoy your blog mostly when you share your insights on your gifts (His holy presen[t]ce) not your deficits (ie the absence of same). I'm sure many casual readers who are not as aware of the abundance of gifts God wants to share with us (ie those whose faith formation was lacking or missing entirely through no fault of their own, or even if complicit) can feel comfortable taking in a "recital" here. Indeed your vocation as an artist calls you to endow the world with that beauty that reaches the depth of soul buried in every heart, no?

By way of unconditional gift, may I offer this post I enjoyed over at the IMAGE blog
and like me you may find it helpful in discerning when your workproduct may have indulged a certain weakness all artists must guard against, to be true to their art? And if you can take in a viewing of "Carl Theodor Dreyer, whose 1956 movie Ordet is the list’s crown jewel for the second year in a row" like all good chiarascuro, the "hidden" light can be seen only by the shadows it casts, giving such shades a sacred pall, o felix culpa!

Pentimento said...

Thank you for your insightful comments, Clare, and for the link. "Penitent porn" is actually a felicitous turn of phrase, and it's something I need to guard against myself *as* a penitent. I look forward to more of your delurking.

Rodak said...

On the other hand, public penitence is a very effective tool in such venues as 12-step programs.

Enbrethiliel said...


"Penitent porn"! What an excellent term!

While public penitence, as Rodak reminds us, can be good for the soul, there is a sense of wallowing and stasis in "penitent porn" that I'm sure we'd all like to avoid!

One of my Lit professors once said of writing, "You never finish. You just stop." If I wanted to finish, I'd never stop writing; but I'm not only a writer, and I can stop and move on. (Does this make sense to you, Pentimento?)