The Power of Introverts

I’ve been writing about this book, and here is the author’s TED talk. (The book is so much better. Of course.) But the talk is well worth a quick listen, holding within it glimmers of the richness in the book itself.

This all leads, in some way, shape, or form, to Carmel, The Ascent of Mt. Carmel by John of the Cross – Spain’s greatest poet, one of the Church’s greatest spiritual writers, with a deep and rich call to the interior life that he did not take for granted. The necessity of time away, time with one’s thoughts, time spent in one’s heart, where alone we know the Lord, who reveals Himself in majesty.

A song of the soul’s happiness in having passed through the dark night of faith, in nakedness and purgation, to union with its Beloved.

1. One dark night, fired with love’s urgent longings — ah, the sheer grace! — I went out unseen, my house being now all stilled.

2. In darkness and secure, by the secret ladder, disguised, — ah, the sheer grace! — in darkness and concealment, my house being now all stilled.

3. On that glad night, in secret, for no one saw me, nor did I look at anything, with no other light or guide than the one that burned in my heart.

4. This guided me more surely than the light of noon to where he was awaiting me — him I knew so well — there in a place where no one appeared.

5. O guiding night! O night more lovely than the dawn! O night that has united the Lover with his beloved, transforming the beloved in her Lover.

6. Upon my flowering breast which I kept wholly for him alone, there he lay sleeping, and I caressing him there in a breeze from the fanning cedars.

7. When the breeze blew from the turret, as I parted his hair, it wounded my neck with its gentle hand, suspending all my senses.

8. I abandoned and forgot myself, laying my face on my Beloved; all things ceased; I went out from myself, leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.

John of the Cross


Digital Minimalism

I’ve been taking time rebuilding my digital life, and I am not alone. Cal Newport, always worth reading and here worth a listen, has an interview here with others getting serious about stepping away from the time-sucking habits of digital media. What I noted as overstimulation in my downtime, he calls a lack of solitude.

Tristan Harris is also doing work on big tech and social media’s “race to the brain stem”, building in a reward system that’s both addictive and compelling.

Technology is great, but it needs to build humanity up, not tear it down.

Off to prayer for me.


The Culture of Personality

It’s a simple idea really, and she documents it with precision.

As Cain writes in her book, we currently live in a “Culture of Personality,” where extraversion is the ideal, a far departure from the past “Culture of Character,” which prized honor and discipline. “What counted was not so much the impression one made in public as how one behaved in private,” she writes.

Thrown into the mix of a culture growing on salesmanship, the same culture in which Dale Carnegie grew to be an icon, she documents the change in advertising as a simple way to see what was growing in the popular culture of the time. Ads changed from simple advertisements, to the perceived need for a product to be accepted and loved. “Buy this Toothpaste and make the best first impression.” “Buy this scent so everyone will know you’re the best.” That sort of thing.

Business schools started gearing their classes towards extroversion, et cetera down the line until we see today the leadership courses so popular that rely almost solely on extroverted leadership as the basis and norm of action in being a qualified leader.

As priests we take these leadership courses on and off – team building, brainstorming, meetings galore. Nothing is ever said about the need for people to have time to focus and develop their ideas, and nothing is said about the fact that many of the most successful corporations and businesses have as their leaders complete introverts (think Microsoft, Apple, for starters.)

This boils down to our current situation, in the Church, where we priests being expected to be extroverted leaders in a world dominated by extroverts, aside from the fact that most priests are introverts. The culture of personality shows up very strong in such an environment where we see priests needing to be liked more than they are expected to behave in a Catholic way in private.

The reliance on a culture of personality for church leadership can, in my own consideration, lead to such things as Fr. Travis Clark and Fr. Pat Wattigny, doing everything right to be priests, yet having a bizarre double lives.

Extroversion and Introversion aside – they’re just preferences and not the ultimate shaper of one’s free will – Cal Newport writes about Deep Work. His writing is geared towards academics, but how much more necessary is it for the Church to observe his own basic and obvious conclusions? Three to four hours are required to enter into a state of thought conducive to our best work in any subject.

As a musician I would practice three hours a day at least, it was the only way to play a Bach Fugue on the organ as it should have been played. (I don’t have that time anymore, so don’t play publicly anymore – many musicians do the same once they move on.) As a leader I insisted one of our introverted workers have the free time to spend three to four hours in her work, because she is capable of greater things when allowed that time and space.

In the Church today we see everyone going from Parish to Parish for Fr. X, Fr. Y, Fr. C – it’s all about the Priest and not about the Mass. Fr. So and so is nicer, he understands me, the music is better. Parishes – most of them – are no longer formed around the Faith – they’re essentially formed around the current Pastor.

Much to reflect upon in our current state of affairs.


Zeta in the Woods

great storm of 2020

But he that shall hear me, shall rest without terror, and shall enjoy abundance, without fear of evils.

Proverbs 1:33

I often wonder what St. John of the Cross’s weblog would have looked like had he had one. It is to his everlasting thanks, no doubt, that he was spared the ignominy of having the internet around in his day. It’s uncharted territory, though, for the most part. Realistically, in the 2000 years of the Church, how many priests have had weblogs?

As to this effort, I think we can all agree that this is in no way shape, or form intended to be an award-winning, trend-setting, website. As more people read it, clearly it will have to evolve into something of less ignominy. In the end, it started as a journal for a few friends, and it’s still that overall.

Life is Good

That being said, too, it’s difficult to get the good sisters down out here in the forest. Easy to get some trees down, but even that was a task for Zeta as it blew through. The hours of rain were perfect to sit around reading. The winds were alarming after a while, then stopped so abruptly I thought we must be in the eye – come to find out, we were. I’ll always remember Zeta as being in the eye of the storm; as if I’ve survived some deep personal trauma that few can understand. Sustained hurricane-force winds are never pleasant though, and at least they didn’t last 12 hours.

The sisters are a delight to spend time with. Sr. Mary Claire on the left has the exact same expression I would have if someone were taking my picture the morning after a late-season hurricane during cleanup efforts, while I was still working on getting a decent cup of coffee going. And Sr. Charista on the right is warding off the chill of the early fall (we’re in the deep south, so yes it’s an early fall chill being late October,) whilst perusing the fallout. It’s not that bad overall.

Sometimes it’s all about the Trees

The trees that get bent over in storms stay this way until you straighten them out with a tractor, or some such. It’s not difficult, it’s just a matter of getting to it with everything else that needs to be done. And if you don’t have a tractor, there’s still ropes, bodyweight, cars – gotta be resourceful. The leaves all over the place, the small limbs, the shingles, tiles, fence boards, etc – it takes time getting to everything.

Pine trees don’t usually bend like this. What they usually do is snap in two as they’re very brittle. During Gustav, I was gazing out upon a bank of pines when suddenly one snapped and fell to the ground. All the images one ever sees of trees gracefully being pushed over by the wind, or falling to the ground in a well-cushioned fall, parachuting down by its leafy canopy, go right out the window when you watch a pine tree fall.

What actually happens with pines is that they snap around the middle then plummet to he ground as quickly as if you dropped a cup of hot coffee near the stove. (Not that you would ever do that, dear reader, but still it would fall that quickly and alarmingly.)

How long, O Lord, how long?

How long will we be without power? How long will 2020 last? What would St. John of the Cross’s weblog have looked like had he had one? What will I do with this website once I’ve learned everything I can learn from it and finally moved on? When will you deal a crushing blow to my enemies and scatter them over the face of the earth? When at last will I see you face to face, leaving behind my own mortal wounds and dwelling solely upon your great, magnificent, majesty and grace?

Hurricane Zeta was a breeze, admittedly a very strong and sustained one. It will take a while to clean up – but that’s a storm for you.

Prayers for all those deeply affected.


A Day at the Sea

The Sea

The sea can be pretty much anything hereabouts. In this case it’s the Mississippi Sound, from earlier this week, where Zeta just blew ashore tonight.

I’ve been back out with the camera more and more. I really need to work on my photography skills. So much to photograph around here, so little skill.

Look at that – such a potentially interesting photo, yet so unremarkable. Like the one below:

I love this little place. The good sisters here have made it into a tiny gem sparkling in the depths of the deep green forest. It deserves to be photographed much better than this.

Reading at the moment Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castles.

It can easily be read in a few hours, but it’s enjoyable to slow down and savor her words. Linguistically she’s a lot of fun, her personality is remarkable fresh and engaging.

She speaks often of being recollected, which today we would probably call composure, or being composed. For her, composure is has a greater depth than we might consider in mere psychological terms. The spirit is conformed to the will of the Lord, and recognizes his great majesty – being conformed to the will of the Lord is not a chore or a burden. It’s freeing, to be who we fully are and to walk, work, and speak in confidence.

Her work is much more than that also, it’s a masterpiece in spiritual literature. But being away right now is the perfect time to be doing some spiritual reading. My director has been encouraging me into more Adoration also, which was – oddly – difficult to do at the Parish. It wasn’t a matter of being busy, really. I’ll write more about that in my own book, which may or may not be written, as the Lord wills. As Teresa often said, “I am too stupid to do such things.”

I’m leaning towards redoing this blog, getting it into shape, and perhaps moving on. Before I do though, I want to finish learning about SEO, readability, etc. It’s not much, it’s just a matter of learning it. I’ll probably put in a lot of the photos I took over the years while redoing things at St. Jane because those are quite interesting.

In the meantime, the power’s out from Zeta, and I am off to do some reading.

Stay well and be great.


Fr. Kenneth Allen