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Sometime last year my friend Ryan and I started talking about doing something suggested by what I had read in my morning devotional reading. In that day’s passage the author of In Conversation with God suggested that when Catholic men greet each other they should ask one another, “How goes the watch?” He said this was how Roman soldiers used to greet a fellow soldier while he was on guard duty. The suggestion was that someone in one’s group of men should always be standing guard–praying and fasting–defending the others in the circle of friends. This idea resonated with me and with my friend. 

We talked for a while about initiating this project, launching  it here at the school where I work, St. Mary’s Catholic High School  (the greatest High School in the universe) but we never really seemed to be able to get it off the ground. 

Just before Lent started this year, I decided that I would do it on my own, and, since then,  I have dedicated Mondays to praying and fasting for the men in my life. I made a list of all the men at the school, which expanded and eventually became all the men in my life, including my sons and my father and their friends. 

I haven’t been exactly perfect at it for a while. I’ve been out of town and with my new dietary restrictions, I’ve been a little bit hesitant to fast for too long, but for the most part, I have been able to do this and have been happy to stand guard. 

Of course, one has to be careful not to make others suffer while you’re mortifying yourself. It took me a few weeks to figure out that my kids weren’t being especially annoying on Monday nights. I was. 

In case you’re wondering, Uncle Screwtape’s recipe for headless children is one part low blood sugar + a very long day. 

Be on guard when you’re on guard!

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‚ÄčThis morning I was talking to a friend about how I’ve been feeling old recently.  My whitened beard, weakened eyes, and creaking bones were not unexpected developments, but I never imagined that I’d find myself in possession of a hoary old soul.  That’s just not me.

Or at least, I thought it wasn’t me, but for months lately, I wasn’t just tired, I was weary.  And not just me–the whole world was worn out, exhausted.  Things seemed grayer, colder, less themselves. I plodded on (what else could I do?), but this uncharacteristic weariness was worrisome.

I’ve always thought of myself as a young man–Chestertonians don’t grow old; they grow merry, but I was slowly turning into a grouchy old grump.  Needless to say, this was a disorienting experience for me.

I’ve been following God for a long time. I have had countless, dramatic, first-hand  experiences of His fidelity; I’ve learned to rely on Him for daily bread (literally), to  trust Him for one step’s worth of light, and to walk by faith not sight. In my many years of following Jesus, I’ve experienced my fair share of dark days (and “dark nights”), but nothing prepared me for the Gray–the entropic “meh” that filled my waking hours.

I’m improving now–this is what I was telling my friend–my strength is being renewed, thanks be to God.  It turns out most of my malaise was rooted in my poor physical health (more on this in a later post–this one has already taken more time than it was worth).  Anyway, I’m finally taking care of myself and I’m already reaping the benefits.  I’ve lost 11 pounds or so in the past week and a half, I’m eating better, and sleep has once again become refreshing.  The best benefit so far is that I seem to be less anxious–in spite of having all the same financial woes and worldly worries.  This is weird, but welcome.  Tomorrow I may go back to being an anxious, muddle-headed mess, but for now, I’m doing alright.

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Today’s act of self-sabotage is brought to you by Pepsi,  makers of the diet beverage I overindulged in late in the day yesterday. I know better than to drink caffeine past 4pm if I want to sleep at night and I still did it anyway. What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with us? Why, like Saint Paul, do we do the things we don’t want to do and neglect to do the things we want to do (and should do)? 

I’m not going to get to the bottom of this today, but it’s a huge problem for me. I’m far and away my worst enemy. I think I’m addicted to self-loathing and regret. It doesn’t make any sense, I know, and, on one level, I can gaze impartially upon the folly of my ways, but on another, I feel utterly powerless against my self-destructive, self-fulfilling-prophecy-making behavior. This is the mystery of sin, right? It makes you feel like it’s inevitable, like holiness and wholeness are impossible–at least for you. 

Them saints that’s lived so long ago had it easy–sin was much less “sinny” back then. Now we know that we don’t stand a chance because of our biological / psychological / poltical / financial / paradigmatical predispositions.  Why even bother? Failure and disappointment crouch like lions to devour you if even for a second you entertain the uncynical proposition that, as a beloved child of God, Somebody thinks you’re worth perfecting. 

Dear God, please let me see myself through your eyes of love. I want to know the future, I want to know that it all turns out okay, that I’m a good man, that my kids don’t grow up to be serial killers, that I’ve touched a few lives for the better, that I did more good than harm in my 70 or so trips around the sun, but if I can’t know all those things now, give me enough light for the steps I take today, give a day’s worth of courage, give me daily bread. 

-RDD

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A few months ago, I decided I needed to get back in the habit of writing every day. I had been feeling listless and a little bit foggy and I thought that regular writing might be just the thing to get me back on track. So I decided to spend a little money to host a WordPress blog on this vanity Web address and, voila, I’m a blogger.

I’ll explain the title of this site more in-depth later, but the idea is that I want to be as assiduous as the donkey whose daily fidelity at the water wheel pours life and beauty to the community he serves.

So, the challenge I’ve set for myself is daily trips to the inkwell. It’s taken me a couple of months to pump out this initial post, but moving forward: one a day. It may be short: it may be long; it may be late; it may be early but God-willing, it will be.

-RDD