The power went out amid the wind, rain, and intermittent hail. With each candle that was lit, the room was filled with softness as light bounced off the walls, wrapping us in a welcomed coziness. I don’t think of lightbulbs as harsh or overpowering, but being suddenly engulfed in hazy candlelight, the shift was tangible. A peace and calmness was present, a stillness that said more than that the air conditioner was retired due to the lack of energy.

The shift, produced by a simple cessation of electricity, seemed considerable. The house was quieter, the atmosphere more serene, and my desire for it to remain so more intense. What if we could live this way? Or what if we could live this way some of the time? Armed with a taper candle, I retreated to my bedroom for the night, reading a little by candlelight and admiring the warmth on the pages which was quite different from the typical glow of my bedside lamp. I admired the flame, simple and powerful, as it embraced the room in a flickering of radiance.

My fearful and practical side saw how this situation could be fatal, with people falling asleep before blowing out the candle beside them. And yet, my romantic and traditional side wondered what we lost with the ease of flipping light switches and beams of light that made us think it was daytime in the middle of the night. Could there be a way to recover the naturalness of following the rising and setting sun? Could there be a way to enter this peace wrought by a flickering flame in a way that didn’t mean upending the advantages of living in the modern era?

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Let Nothing Distract

Let Nothing Distract

This past week, one of my classes watched a movie about the life of Mother Teresa. At one point, right after Mother Teresa had left the Loreto convent, she was shown clearing out her room at a host family’s house. The owner told her they had a lot of spare furniture she was welcomed to use during her time with them. She responded by saying that she needed simplicity so that nothing would distract her from her work with the poor.

I don’t know if that scene happened exactly like that in real life, but her words struck me. Even if she didn’t say that, her life showed that she lived that reality. Perhaps even more impressive, though, was the idea that simplicity gives freedom. It wasn’t a new concept to me, but it was a new concept when I considered it in light of the saint of the slums. Mother Teresa needed poverty in order to be committed to caring for the poor. That may not seem profound to you, but hearing those words evoked a question within me: what makes me think I have more discipline than Mother Teresa?

If Mother Teresa needed simplicity to pursue God’s mission, what makes me think I can follow God without simplifying my life, too?

Her God-given mission was to help the poor. Knowing her own humanity, she knew she had to give up creature comforts in order to remain focused on her mission. Her life of poverty provided the freedom to be generous and sacrificial with her life and time. Material items distract. Compelled by the love and thirst of God, Mother Teresa knew she could not afford to be distracted by lesser things. She created space in her life that could be filled by the presence of God. Fewer possessions crowding her heart yielded greater room to the concerns of the Lord.

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Sacred Transplant

“I’m looking for my heart because I feel like I’ve lost it.”  I was surprised by the honesty from the young Canadian friend I made on the Camino.  It made one ache just to hear of the quest and immediately hope for the success of the mission.

Interestingly enough, my Camino quest was different.  Instead of finding my heart, I wanted to give it away.  Not to just anyone.  I was seeking clarity and hope in regards to my vocation, but early on, I knew that I wanted to give my heart more fully to Jesus as I walked the next five hundred miles with Him.

The days on the Camino were simple, idealized in my memory now that blisters have healed.  As an introvert, I relished the time spent walking alone, gazing at the beauty of nature and contemplating Beauty Himself.

In Leon, we went to Mass in the side chapel of the massive Cathedral.  Refreshingly enough, we weren’t ousted from the chapel right at the end of Mass, permitting us some time to pray.  Often throughout my walk I would picture myself with Jesus.  In the chapel, I did the same thing.  My intended meditation was hijacked by the Holy Spirit and instead of meditating on Mary, I was taken to an operating table.  Jesus took my heart and gave me His Heart.  It was simple but profound.  Then He picked me up and carried me.

Oh, I’m His cross,” I thought at first.  But in the next thought/prayer, one that completely alters the initial perception, I contemplated, “No, I’m His Bride.

Not a burden or a sacrifice, but a joy, a Beloved one.  In that prayer in Leon, I experienced the reality of Christ’s desires.  Longing to give my heart away, Christ is longing to receive my heart and give me His own heart.  In a method of Divine Sacred Heart Transplant, He impressed upon me the knowledge that His home is in me and that my ache to give my heart away was matched by my less articulated ache to receive Him fully.

The Simple Life

Each day was simple in its task.  I was to wake up, eat, walk, pray, and sleep.  Each day, I was successful.

It is difficult to not be successful with such a simple task.  Yet too often I feel as though my life is not filled with simple tasks.  Instead of checking each item off the list and falling into bed knowing I did what was necessary that day, I am often going to sleep simply because I’m too exhausted to finish the task at hand.

The Camino was simple.  Not easy, but very simple.  I don’t think my interactions with everyone I encountered were perfect, but essentially every day ended successfully.

I don’t feel this success as a teacher.  I don’t feel this success simply as a working young adult Catholic.  Most days I feel as though I am miserably failing.  Then I wake up the next day to fail again.  The stack of uncorrected papers grow, the lesson plans become less than plans and more like ideas that are half-taught.  The sleep dwindles, the time I take for prayer lessens and I fall asleep during it anyway.

I am not successful.

The world measures my life by a standard of success that I do not have the luxury of choosing.  Even if I had the option to choose my own standard, I would still fall short.

Thankfully, the Lord measures success differently.  He desires my faithfulness and not simply my apparent (or unapparent) success.  With honesty, however, I am lacking in the faithfulness department, too.

All of this draws me back to the simplicity found on the Camino.  I had no papers to grade, no lessons to plan, no time to waste on Facebook, and very little distractions apart from the beautiful scenery and the pain in my feet.  It made me wish that all of life could be like that.  That life could be a simple, clear path.  I would wake up in the morning and know exactly where I was to go and I would take the necessary steps to get there.  I would nourish my body and try to consistently be in my bed by 10 pm.  It was a forced balance that I find myself not adhering to on a regular basis.  I knew what I needed and so I did what was necessary.

How do I take the simple beauty of the Camino lifestyle, the necessary discipline encompassed within that, and apply it to my daily life?

How do I encounter success through being faithful?

How do I simplify?

My Grandparent’s Simplicity

I gently tapped the bowl with my finger.  It was plastic, as I had expected, instead of glass.  The time had come for the grandkids to go through what had belonged to our grandparents and request our favorite things.  There were some things that I wanted, but not very many.  In my love for my grandparents, I looked at the material items and realized part of the sacrifices they willing endured for their family.

My grandparents grew up during the Depression.  They understood not having much and carried that mentality into the rest of their lives.  My grandpa said that his family never went hungry, but then he also told my dad, without complaint, that there were times when they ate potatoes for every meal of the day.

Some people lived through the Depression and then spent much of their lives trying to live in luxury so as to make up for their time of poverty.  My grandparents embraced the lifestyle of simplicity that was taught to them through the difficulties of the 1930s followed by the war of the 1940s.  By the time they both died (my grandma in 2004 and my grandpa in 2013), they had stored up for themselves what probably seemed like amazing wealth to the 1930s versions of themselves.

Yet they did not live as though they were wealthy.  My grandparents were generous with us but did not seek to spoil us.  The overall impression was that family, not money, would be the source of happiness.  As I got older, the number of family functions seemed only to increase.  We would gather for a long weekend at a lake, spend a weekend in a hotel in town as a family, and once a group of us took a trip to Ireland and Scotland for a couple weeks.

The simplicity of their lifestyle is something that is good for me to remember.  They turned off lights, used no air conditioning, ate simply, and did without many luxuries.  Without great wealth to begin with, they gave birth to ten children and ushered nine of them into adulthood.  My grandma would replace the elastic in her pants when it gave out and my grandpa would wear the same overalls for decades.  Their happiness did not rest in their bank accounts but in the family they were raising.  And if family is an indicator of wealth, they were abundantly wealthy.  Nine children lived to adulthood and between 30-40 grandchildren were born as a result of that.

This week my dad and his siblings are selling my grandparent’s land.  I’m sure that it is a difficult experience, something that seems to finalize things that one wants to pretend didn’t happen.  While my grandparents are no longer here on earth, their memory remains rooted in our hearts.  Yet far from wish they could remain here with us forever, I pray they are in Heaven.  In Heaven, there is no need to conserve money or live simply.  Heaven is an overflow of abundance, a rich banquet for all to join in, lavish goodness poured into the lap of each person there.  That is what I desire for them.  Not money or great material wealth, but the richness of belonging entirely to the family of God, to the Body of Christ.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  (Mt. 5:3)

A Country Heart

I’m fairly convinced that my little heart would shrivel a bit if forced to reside in a major city.  I could do it, mind you, because I’m stubborn and (I like to think) tough.  However, it would be difficult.  Recently I made the move from my beloved parents’ farm to the “big city” of 150,000.  Today, as I sat in traffic caused by a train I had a couple thoughts.

1. It is nice to see these tracks actually being used for a train.  I miss the train tracks that run by my home in the country.
2. Lord, I could never live in a big city for too long.  Or if I did, my heart would ache a bit and feel a little restricted.

I’ve been to big cities–New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Rome, Madrid–but I think it would take a lot to be at home in one.  The novelty would eventually wear off and I wonder if I would just walk around with an extra weight on my shoulders.

Freshman year of college I found myself on the phone with my parents telling them that there were people everywhere.  I went to a school boasting about 2500 students but I felt that wherever I turned there were people.  My room was no longer a quiet sanctuary and I couldn’t think of one place where I could go and be alone.  It was a frightening prospect to an introvert.  Even as I got used to the people that surrounded me, there were a couple times when I wanted to just go be by myself.  Whether it was to have a good cry (and not have to explain why–can’t we just feel like crying sometimes?) or to just let down all of my defenses, I longed for a quiet place of my own.  I was used to being in the country.  My summer days were isolated from the rest of the world with only my sisters, a TV, a stack of books, and the great outdoors to occupy my hours.  In the country, if you want to be alone you have so many options to choose from.  You can even walk down a road and not encounter any people for quite a while.  It was a haven from the rest of the world and I loved it.

Now I find myself driving home most weekends and relishing the sight of stores fading away, houses fading away, and finally paved roads fading away.  Then I will turn off my car and hear…nothing.  The beautiful sound of silence that is deep and hearty.  I can go to my favorite window in the house and gaze down at the surrounding countryside.  The creek that forms a frozen bridge to the pastureland and a sprinkling of trees that provide refuge for the wildlife.  If you ignore the lone white house on the hill and the power lines, you could feel like you are all alone for miles and miles.  That, my friend, is a very good feeling.

I’m a country girl at heart.  My soul is rooted in simplicity and silence.  The concrete jungle isn’t really my thing and house after house isn’t the landscape I long for.  All of this leads me to conclude (obviously) that Heaven, while being a great communion, must also be filled with deep silence and that beautiful feeling of being alone.  I’m not quite sure how it works, but I look forward to finding out.

Simple Beauties

I like simplicity.  And I like beauty.  I am continually amazed by things that would be so easy to pass by or discount as being of little importance.  A simple cup of coffee from home on the way to work with the sun shining on the plains filled my heart with joy.  The Sacred Host exposed in vulnerable love as voices rise like incense to fragrance Our Lord’s throne.  A glorious sunset that mixes the palette of colors into a never before seen array of splendor.  The simplicity of a humble priest who, with eyes closed in a concentration that must have been often etched upon Our Lord’s face, raises his hand to absolve me from my sins.  The moment in the confessional when you say the Act of Contrition and you are struck for the first time by the words “but most of all because I have offended Thee, O God, who art all good…”  My heart desiring the simplicity of a human love that will rival all fiction and will lead me steadfastly to Heaven’s embrace.  The conversations with dear sisters placed hundreds of miles away from me.  This song.  A beautiful red tomato freshly picked from the garden and an apple harvested from the nearby tree.  This picture:

A moment to stop, look around at the countryside, and breathe in a deep breath of crisp autumn air.  The silence, the peace, the luxury of looking across the land and seeing no human person in sight.  The knowledge that I am because He always is.