Home Away From Home

Home Away From Home

Every time I go to the ocean or sea I think of where I grew up. Mountains in their majestic reaching for the heavens are beautiful. Forests brimming with greenery and a thick growth of trees are lovely. Sprawling canyons surrounded by arid, desert bloom have a foreign intrigue. But water, rolling and churning as far as the eye can see, makes me think of home.

Some consider that odd since I grew up on the prairie. But I find it necessary every now and then to get somewhere I am able to breathe. When I stand by the water and am able to look until the earth curves, I feel a sense of freedom, a deep breath builds interiorly that needs to be exhaled as all that confines falls away. And though the ocean and sea embody an exotic newness that I’ve never fully explored, they also contain within them a sense of home.

The other day I was driving and spent a long time marveling at how the tall prairie grasses rolled so wave-like under the ever-present prairie wind. The pliant bending of the grasses followed by their rebounding over and over again was simple yet lovely. It made me want to tell my neighbors that the reason I mow so infrequently is because I love our prairie heritage and would love to see the oceanic movements in my own backyard. Instead, I drove on as I gratefully took in the ebb and flow of the grass, resilient and fierce despite the slender bowing.

This need to breathe and to have the space to do so is one of the reasons I couldn’t last long in a big city. As it is, the city I live in causes me to feel slightly suffocated, something I don’t realize until I’m driving into the country and feel myself unconsciously breathing deeper and freer. I thrive on the flat prairie, a gaze that goes on and on with a vastness that yearns to be appreciated.

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Joy in Everyday Things

Joy in Everyday Things

Marie Kondo advocates asking yourself if the things that fill your house spark joy. While I don’t live her method, there is something intriguing about asking that question about the items that fill our visual landscape. Many things in my home don’t do that (I suppose I find it hard for spoons and forks to greatly spark joy in me—yet they are pretty useful for eating), but it is perhaps more interesting to consider the things that do fall into that category.

During the pandemic, I’ve spent a lot of time at home. But given this abundance of time at home, I notice that my affections continue to be drawn to particular things in my home and I find once again compelled to acknowledge that beautiful, practical (and impractical) items are so helpful for ushering joy into our lives.

For example, I have a wooden serving tray and it is perhaps odd the number of times I stop to admire the varying grains that run across and throughout the wood. Either as I’m arranging food on it or washing it off, I generally am thinking, “This is so beautiful.”

Or I have a serving bowl that was handpainted in Italy that I purchased last summer while in Assisi. The bright colors that fill the interior bring me a thrill of joy every time I fill it with salad or an array of fruit. As I use it, I frequently remember the peace of Assisi, the quiet of the streets during our time there, and the beauty of being in a place so old.

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The Beauty of a Child’s Prayer

The Beauty of a Child’s Prayer

“Do you mind if we stop at the church for a couple of minutes?” I asked my nephew.
“Why?”
“To say hi to Jesus.” He said nothing. “Do you?” I said as I turned on my blinker. I asked again as I pulled into the parking lot. He remained silent.

We walked into the sanctuary, the heavy fragrance of incense making me close my eyes and breath deeply. For a few minutes, we knelt and then sat back in the pew. It was completely quiet and empty. The stillness in striking contrast with the usual full bustle of a Sunday morning Mass.

I turned to say something to my nephew and saw that he sat there with eyes closed and hands folded. And so I waited in the weight of silence until he suddenly turned to me and asked if we could go.

We spoke for a little bit about the silence, spent some time reading about St. John the Beloved on his feast day, and then I asked if we could pray for a friend of mine who was suffering from an illness that was lasting years. It was her birthday and she was on my heart and mind throughout the day. So I offered a brief intention for her and my sister before asking if he had anything to add.

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Traffic and cold, bless the Lord

Traffic and cold, bless the Lord

Yesterday, the exit ramp I took on my way home was overflowing with traffic. The lane that veered off the interstate was filled nearly to the point of backing into the lanes of traffic that were continuing north. I was listening to some lovely music, pondering my day, and waiting for my turn. Despite the traffic, it was a peaceful moment.

Looking toward the west, I took in the beauty of the setting sun. Puffy cotton ball clouds blanketed the sky and slowly turned tropical shades despite the freezing temperatures outside. It was a delight to just gaze at the beauty I saw splashed generously across the sky. I couldn’t help but think that if it wasn’t for the obnoxious traffic, I wouldn’t have had the time to just ponder the sky. Closest to the horizon the sky was a fiery orange tinged with pink and further away the clouds took on a more somber hue.

It was cold outside. The sun’s setting seemed far too early. It had been a long day. There was still so much of the week to go. But, Lord, thank You for this moment of beauty, this moment of peace.

It made me think of something I had seen on Facebook one time regarding the snow. The post said, “If you choose not to find joy in the snow, you will have less joy in your life but the same amount of snow.” It is simple and yet a needed reminder that gratitude is the appropriate way to approach life. The traffic situation seemed to apply as well. If I choose to not find joy in traffic, I still have the traffic but not joy. So I looked up and saw something to be grateful for as I waited. God was casually displaying beautiful art during the evening commute. And I sought to soak it up this time instead of sink into my own world.

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When Beauty Bores

When Beauty Bores

The first day or two that we were on pilgrimage in Rome, the students were entering church after church with necks that craned heavenward. It was the natural response to the beautiful architecture that we were encountering. They took pictures galore, marveling over magnificent domes and intricate mosaics that adorned the walls. Our hearts were overflowing with beauty. My students from South Dakota were encountering some of the greatest artists the world has ever had to offer.

By day three, however, they were growing bored with the church after church schedule, regardless how beautiful they were. One of the girls that seemed quite invested in photography went from executing creative basilica photo shoots to nonchalantly sitting in a pew during a stop in another church.

“Isn’t it funny how quickly we get bored of all this beauty?” I asked her as I watched other students mill around aimlessly.
“Yes!” she replied, perhaps noticing for the first time how much her response had changed to the loveliness around her.

And we spoke for a few minutes about how amazed we all were the first day and how quickly we were tired of what had been novel only a couple days before. My tiredness didn’t match the students’ expressions, but I did have to remind myself to keep looking at the churches with wonder and not simply let my eyes glaze over.

Too much beauty–is there even such a thing?

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like a Sunday alms-box

like a Sunday alms-box

I was recently introduced to the Polish poet Anna Kamienska. As I walked the streets of Rome, post-crepe from a nearby shop, I read a poem she wrote about St. Edith Stein. It was providential because I have rather recently become quite intrigued with the life of Edith Stein. By all accounts, we have little in common and yet I can identify with her unasked for period of waiting for her desires to be fulfilled. I can only ask that I endure all future waiting with the hope and attentiveness to the present moment that she did.

So I read the words about Edith Stein, someone whose life overlapped Anna Kamienska’s, and wondered about this poet. I like poetry that uses surprising yet fitting word choice, poetry that paints rich pictures, poetry that points to a deeper truth in a perhaps unconventional way. I don’t like poetry that confuses me or seems to not make sense or offers no beauty. Reading through Anna Kamienska’s selected works in Astonishments, I have found several poems that I believe I will ponder, appreciate, and re-read during the upcoming days and weeks.

The one I’d like to direct your attention to is called “Gratitude”–something I am certain I will need to return to once the fall semester starts all-too-soon.

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Holy Homesickness

Holy Homesickness

`My grandmother,’ I said in a low tone, `would have said that we were all in exile, and that no earthly house could cure the holy home-sickness that forbids us rest.’

Manalive, G.K. Chesterton

Sometimes, life feels a bit like a long exile. No place, regardless of how grand or beautiful, seems to work as a perfect home.

When I graduated from college (or maybe it was even before that point), I remember realizing that never again would all the people I love be in the same place. Friends scattered across the country in post-graduation searches for jobs. My heart had experienced profound beauty in multiple places around the world. It produced the aching reality that many places could be home and yet no one place or group of people were entirely home.

Walking the Camino a few years ago, I lived physically what I seem to live internally. I was a wandering pilgrim, looking for the end of the road and a consistent place to rest. So much of me aches and longs for Heaven because I desire a resting place, the place where there are no tears or separations or unfulfilled desires. A place of contentment, communion, and constancy–a home that can never pass away or be divided.

Holy homesickness.

In Chesterton’s Manalive, he speaks about a man who leaves his family in order to re-discover the joy of loving them again. He leaves home to discover home. It does seem to be the case that too often the familiar becomes overly ordinary or commonplace. When I was in Switzerland, I wondered who wouldn’t gape with awe at the majestic mountains that formed the backdrop to the hostel I stayed in for a couple days. Probably the Swiss.

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A Beauty Filled Life

A Beauty Filled Life

As I walked the Camino, I found within myself a longing for beauty.  Mile after mile passed beneath my feet and I made commitments to myself about how I would like to live my post-Camino life.

Read poetry every day.
Look at new artwork.
Listen to classical music.

All of those commitments and ideas didn’t translate as neatly into my reality as I had hoped.  In the rush of the daily grind, it is difficult to intentionally set aside time to experience beauty.  Most days, my taste of beauty happens when I remind myself to take in the fall foliage before winter sets in.  But an intentional pursuit of beauty?  Generally, that is non-existent.

Last night, I flipped through a book of poems entitled Poems You Ought to Know.  My English degree (with a concentration in British and American Literature) meant that I recognized most of the names in the table of contents.  Some of the poem names even sounded familiar, but few were ones I could stop and say, “Oh, I love this one!”

Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee” was there and I recalled that in college I taught a lesson on this to a classroom of high schoolers during an education class.  It is a beautiful poem, I think, even with the natural morbidity found in Poe’s works.  The poetic devices that I had reviewed with the class came to mind dimly.

It makes me wonder why I don’t read poetry like my heart desires.  Why do I not sit down and read a Shakespearean sonnet in the evening?  Why don’t I learn about the famous classical composers?  Why don’t I use the gift of the internet to virtually explore art museums and learn about the different periods in art history?  I desire it.  Why don’t I do it?

Because it is easier to not.   Continue reading “A Beauty Filled Life”

Wonderful Awe

Wonderful Awe

A couple of weeks ago, I sat at my dining room table with a couple of friends and discussed with awe the world around us.  In the midst of busy lives and increasing advancements, sometimes it is easy to take for granted things that should be amazing to us.  For a few hours, my friends and I moved from topic to topic, considering the world with great awe.

Wonder is the normal response to splendor.

Thomas Dubay, The Evidential Power of Beauty

This event struck me because of how easy it is to view the world in a tired, jaded way.  While I know a decent amount of theology, my knowledge in so many other areas is small and incomplete.  In day-to-day interactions, I take many things for granted.  Things that would astound me, if I paused for just a moment to acknowledge them.  So we conversed with wonder about the internet, smart phones, suspension bridges, wind turbines, time, and solar power.  It was a joy to consider what the human mind has conceived and how it is possible for us to create things.  A couple of months ago, I read a book about a watchmaker who would travel by train to another town simply to get the correct time from an astronomical clock for his town’s clock tower.  We were amazed that now we could just look at our watches or phones to know the time.

I have had multiple situations where I have discussed with others the beauty of things I do not fully understand.  The complexity of a single human cell, the vastness of the universe, and the splendor of mountains have all, at one time or another, been a topic of conversation and awe.  Yesterday, I flew across half the country in less than three hours.  The fact that flying is even possible helps bring wonder into a situation that can be consumed by impatience with security and airline rules.  I looked with curiosity at the mountain ranges that looked like large creases on a landscape far below me.  A patchwork quilt of farmland and mile after mile of straight country roads soon greeted me as I neared my destination.  I spent much of my flying time reading a book, but every now and then I would look and marvel at the world below and this plane far above.

It is troubling that in a universe replete with mind-boggling fascinations masses of people live dull and drab lives….Fully jaded men and women, old or young, marvel at nothing….To be listless, dull, bored, and lifeless is not only a miserable condition, it is an illness, a fact obvious to anyone who is intellectually alive.  To respond to reality and to appreciate it are normal; not to respond is abnormal.

Thomas Dubay, The Evidential Power of Beauty

This world that surrounds us is quite magnificent.  It is beautiful beyond understanding.  People laugh a bit at me when I profess the beauty of South Dakota.  And when I was in high school, I probably would have laughed at myself, too.  It was only after traveling around Europe during my semester abroad, that I began to see beauty in a multitude of places.  The scenery became glorious because everything was surrounded in a golden halo simply because it was European.

When I came home, I found myself wanting to pull over to the side of the road to take pictures of scenery.  I was surprised that a field of corn filled me with joy or that wide open prairies seemed as beautiful to me in South Dakota as they had in Austria.  My eyes were opened to see the beauty that can be found anywhere. Continue reading “Wonderful Awe”

When the Ordinary Prepares the Way for the Extraordinary

When the Ordinary Prepares the Way for the Extraordinary

Kids are really good at living in the moment.  It is what gives them the ability to swing from laughter to tears in a matter of seconds.  They can have great joy eating an ice cream cone and then become distraught with five minutes in time out.  Right now, right here is the most important thing for kids.

My niece is a prime example of both sides of this.  I gave her a mermaid tail blanket for a belated Christmas present.  She was enthused as she slipped it around her legs and then flopped along on the floor.  Coming to me, she grabbed my legs and exclaimed, “I look exactly like a mermaid, Trish!”  Contrast that scene with several weeks prior when she fought against the injustice of being forced to sit at the adult table while her two older brothers sat at a kid table.  “Not fair!” she sobbed, pointing at her brothers, “They get to sit at the little table!  No fair!”  A few minutes later, having switched places with one semi-willing brother, she was more than content.

Adults can be similar, but we also are more prone to live in the past or the future.  Sometimes we can forget that the present is all we really have.

Precious moments can slip away because they don’t come shrouded in the extraordinary.  Everyday moments, ones that are ordinary yet give life beauty, are some of the most treasured once they have passed.  I’ve heard it said that people often miss the ordinary moments when they lose people close to them.  I have found that to be true in my life.  My paternal grandfather died a few years ago and one of the things I miss most is giving him a hug before leaving his house and hearing him say, “Come again.”   Continue reading “When the Ordinary Prepares the Way for the Extraordinary”