Sunday, March 01, 2009

Mass at Gunpoint

Muzzle awareness.

That's a phrase I've heard a lot since joining the Army. It's an important aspect of 'situational awareness' since it definitely can save lives. There's nothing 'accidental' about "accidental discharges (which is why they're now called "negligent discharges").

I'm not sure why I'm as keyed into where the muzzles of other people's weapons are pointed -- it could be as simple as my own attempt at paying attention to what's going on around me, or it could have something to do with my being a non-combatant and never carrying a weapon. I'm not really sure that the 'why' of it is really even important.

Paying attention, I figure -- especially for a sober person like myself -- borders on the miraculous. When I was drinking and using, everything was all about NOT paying attention. I did NOT want to "tune in and turn on" to use an old phrase one never hears anymore!. I just wanted to 'check out'.

The last thing I wanted to do was to pay attention.

Were I to pay attention, it would be just too painful. Too much shame. Too much fear. Too much self-loathing. Too much feeling apart-from, rather than part-of. Too much sadness, which gave way to self-pity.

It was pretty awful. I wanted out. Drinking and using provided the means to blot it out, or to live in a fantasy world, or both. However it's described, though, at its root it was just all about not paying attention.

"Better living through chemistry," as I laughingly described it at the time, was anything but living, and certainly wasn't better, though it did involve a lot of chemicals!

But then I got clean and sober and discovered the loving, saving action of a Higher Power right in the midst of the mess, and not in spite of it. *Had* I been paying attention before I stopped drinking, perhaps I'd have noticed God's presence in the mess sooner, but that was not the case. Sober persons whom I respected counseled me to pay attention to all sorts of things I'd previously tried to avoid, at any cost.

This was not good news to my addled brain!

But as the fog cleared (or rather, has been clearing -- it's an on-going process in my case; once again, I'm a slow learner!) I began to see that what I feared most was no match for a really, really, really big Higher Power (and, in my case as a Christian, for a Higher Powerlessness!).

I began to pay attention, despite myself.

Nowadays, especially over here Down Range, I am very aware of my surroundings, of what's going on at 5 and 25 meters out from my position, of where other people are (or ought to be!), and that sort of thing. More important spiritually, I'm tracking what's going on inside me, affectively, on the level of feelings.

When I was drinking and using, I couldn't have identified a feeling if it had bitten me. (Come to think of it, they *were* biting me, but I still couldn't identify them!) These days I'm much better able to identify -- and accept -- what I'm feeling, and therefore better able to make decisions as to how to respond creatively to whatever is going on.

For example, one of my good friends over here has an amazing ability to respond in a surprisingly instantaneous, intense and angry way to seemingly insignificant stimuli (at least from *my* perspective). By noticing myself wanting to respond in kind, rather than in kindness, I'm able to choose the latter course of action and prevent an escalation of hostilities over something stupid and inconsequential.

Were I not paying attention to what was going on inside ME, I'd just lash out in anger and a desire for retribution -- justifiably, of course -- and the situation would deteriorate into our own private Middle East. But these days I don't have to do that, or at least not to the point of nuclear annihilation!

I consider this the stuff of miracles, given my past.

So I'm noticing a lot more stuff lately than was ever the case before.

This was especially true this past Christmas as I was processing down the center aisle for noon Mass at the 'parish' where I'm 'pastor'.

The man in front of me, carrying the Lectionary held out in front of him as we moved toward the altar, was armed with his M-9 pistol. As is common over here, he carried the pistol in a shoulder harness over his left shoulder, with the ammunition in cartridges slung over his right shoulder.

The muzzle of his weapon, perhaps two feet away from me, was pointed directly at my heart (yes, I *do* have one). I remember thinking to myself, "I'm about to do Mass at gunpoint!" That was a first for me.

Muzzle awareness.

It's great to be sober!

Blessings and peace to one and all,

Fr. Tim, SJ
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Believe it or not, this is a real issue for chapel services downrange. We built racks to stack the M16s and the like, but weapons in holsters can prove to be a particularly difficult problem. It can be a very real distraction when you are trying to worship with a weapon pointed at you from the person in front of you. Perhaps a pre-service announcement is in order. In the mainland it would be, "please turn off all cell phones and pagers." Downrange it could be, "As a courtesy to others, please ensure all weapons are pointed down in their holsters."


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