He complains much of our blindness, and cries often that we are to be pitied who content ourselves with so little.
The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence
This Lent, I want to not settle. I’ve been slowly plodding through The Practice of the Presence of God and I find little bits of wisdom, such that makes me want to savor the book and not just rush through it, although it is brief. As I’ve been seeking to delve into a new relationship with the Lord during this new season of grace, I’ve been moved by this plea of Brother Lawrence to not content myself with so little. My “big” desires turn out to be not so big in light of what the Lord desires. In fact, it turns out that I want too little instead of wanting too much.
It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
The Weight of Glory, CS Lewis
The Lord offers deep and intimate relationship with Him. And we want ease and comfort. Or nice clothes. Or relaxation. Or sleep. Or any number of things that show how little we will settle for when grand things are held before us. This time of Lent is a time to re-focus and shift my perspective to be more eternal, to focus less on the things of this world and see the unending delights the Lord promises if we but bypass the immediate half-goods. I write this as much for myself as for anyone else. This Lent, let us run the race well and seek after the things not of this world and let our longings increase and become longings truly worthy of the beauty for which humanity was created.
Let us deepen our desires. They cannot be too big for the Lord, only too small.
On my drive to and from school, I keep reminding myself to soak it up and take it in. Instead of getting lost in thought or just robotically staring at the road ahead, I attempt to look up and look around. So often I find myself in the early part of winter wondering what happened to the fall days I cherish. The trees seem to be blazing scarlet and golden hues for such a brief period of time. While I think fall is often inconveniently truncated, I also forget to embrace the days we do have.
This year, I’m attempting to make my morning and evening commutes a time for noticing. Noticing the particular blush of the tree near my house, mostly green but with a warm glow on top. Noticing the checker of colors on the trees as I wait for the light to change. Noticing the warmth of the afternoon sun and the slight coolness in the morning air.
There seems to be a need to soak up these moments, to store them away in my heart for the months ahead where the trees will be barren and the air frigid. In those moments, there will be much to be grateful for, too, but I want to relish these days as the colorful glory that they are for me.
In the first few weeks of school, I find myself swinging between this isn’t that bad and then suddenly falling into I’m not sure I can do this for an entire semester or an entire year. What I keep returning to is the knowledge that this year, perhaps more than ever, needs to be filled with intentional work-life balance and an abundance of good, life-giving things for me. It is always the desire and goal each year for those things to have a critical place and yet this year I think they need to be a desire turned into reality.
With everyone masked, I find myself trying to guess more and more what my students are thinking or how they are receiving the information presented. Not every student gives away their inner thoughts on their faces, but it certainly helps me know more about what is happening internally when I have an entire face to view and not simply a set of eyes.
I realize the same is true for them, too, when I re-watch videos of me teaching and I see how crucial the facial expressions were for the lesson. I don’t claim to have the most interesting face, friends, but the whole face is incredibly helpful when lecturing. Even though I was raised by a man who disciplined with his eyebrows, I cannot convey every emotion purely through raising or lowering my eyebrows. I attribute at least part of my excessive tiredness to this COVID-induced reality.
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.
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.
So often I find that when I am teaching my students, I am actually teaching myself. I listen to the words come out of my mouth and find that I am convicted to live in a new way. It isn’t as though I talk about the Gospel and the Lord all day long and pat myself on the back. Rather, I find myself over and over having to admit that I am falling short of living the Good News fully.
One of my classes is finishing up a section on martyrs. They researched fairly recent martyrs with most of them living at some point during the 1900s. Then I showed two videos from Chris Stefanick about two priests who lived boldly during times of war. One priest was Fr. Emil Kapaun and the other was Fr. Vincent Capodanno, both of whom are at various stages of the canonization process.
Each video revealed how these men offered hope in situations that seemed hopeless. Fr. Kapaun became a POW during the Korean War and Fr. Capodanno died in a battle in the Vietnam War. In spite of persecution, Fr. Kapaun encouraged the men, leading them in prayer and risking his own safety to help them survive. As a war raged, Fr. Capodanno ran across the battlefield, offering last rites to wounded soldiers and bringing tangible peace with his presence and words. Their ability to provide hope in war changed the people they encountered. For some, it saved their lives and for others, it brought a calm in the midst of the storm.
As we reflected on these priests in class, I found myself inviting them (and by extension myself) to be hope-bearers in this world. High school can be such a difficult place for them, but the frustrations they experience are often carried into life beyond high school. What if they were people that others found hope in? What if we were able to provide a calm in the midst of the storm? A battle rages around us: wouldn’t it be beautiful if others found a place to rest when they were in our presence?
“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.
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.
I found this poem through a podcast that has a “poem of the day” that they read and analyze a bit. While I often forget, reading and learning more poetry follows a desire I have to immerse my life in more beauty.
Have you ever heard a passage in Scripture and been convinced that it was crafted specifically for you in that moment?
Or have you heard a story or verse again but you are really hearing it for the first time with new ears?
Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord? Who shall stand in his holy place?
After a college semester in Austria, I spent a week in Ireland with my aunt. One day, I climbed Croagh Patrick, the mountain said to be the place where St. Patrick drove the snakes from Ireland. I’m a plains girl, through and through, but I was excited to have a mini-retreat as I ascended the mountain on my own.
For several months after, I was reminded of this small pilgrimage when I would read Scripture passages that spoke of climbing mountains. Transported, the verses were enriched with the memory of my own mountain climbing experience. The view I had from the rocky summit was striking, reminding me why mountain-top experiences are so formative.
The Lord is king, let the earth rejoice, Let all the coastlands be glad.
In college, I went on a mission trip that brought the sacraments to people living along the Honduran coast. We hiked to towns that had no roads and met with people who had almost nothing. My Spanish was limited, but my heart overflowed when I encountered their simplicity and their joy. Returning to campus, I longed to be in Honduras, a place abundant in beauty and where I encountered the tangible presence of the Lord.