The sun filters in through your blinds. You stretch languidly in bed, well-rested and ready to take on a new day. Looking over at the clock, it kindly punches you in the stomach – it’s now two hours later than you needed to wake up. You launch yourself off the mattress, only for your foot to land square on the package you’ve been meaning to ship back to Amazon. Your car won’t so much as cough, the bus glides glacially down its route, and the Imagineer at Starbucks can’t comprehend the word “medium”.
The perfect succession of events we call “one of those days” can drive even the most practiced contemplatives into a seemingly-irrational, frothing rage. And while, on one level, the language of the Exercises describes this phenomenon entirely adequately, it can feel much like reading a physics textbook to understand a nuclear explosion – it misses the little extra awe-inducing something.
Fortunately, where handbooks and textbooks fail to satisfy, humor rises to the task. I present you with Hyperbole and a Half: Sneaky Hate Spiral. In that blogpost, our hostess Allie takes us on a tour de force through one of her descents into rageaholic madness. It traces how little annoyances compound geometrically, until the product eventually “begins to exceed your capacity for patience and rational thought.”
At that point, it takes only one incident out of our control to turn an otherwise peaceful person into an enormous green rage monster.
Allie’s description points us to an important observation. Patience and rational thought really are capacities, and not simply capabilities. Broadly speaking, the difference between the two is that we can expand our capacities, whereas we either possess a capability or we do not. Patience, rationality, level-headedness: these can be improved with practice and time.
Making this distinction can significantly impact one’s approach to spirituality and to sin. One reason to pray and practice the Examen daily is not only because it’s immediately good in itself, but because it effectively extends one’s spiritual capacities – patience, hopefully, among them. On the other side of the cliche coin, failures in Christian virtue (aka, when we sin or screw up) can often be approached as somehow having exceeded our limited capacities. And yet even then, sin can be an opportunity for hope, encouraging us to develop our capacities going forward.
I hope you head on over to Hyperbole and a Half and enjoy a good laugh – I think most of us can identify with Allie on this one. While you’re there, check out her many other good posts (and join me in praying that she can update it again soon!). Good luck with those capacities.