Quit Striving: You Are Already Valuable

Quit Striving: You Are Already Valuable

For the past few semesters, I give something called ‘The Preference Test‘ as a way to lead into the Argument from Desire when speaking of God’s existence. This test gives a series of would-you-rather questions but proposed in a slightly different way. I understand why the students sometimes find it silly because it pits options like You are loved against You are not loved. It seems easy enough to be clear about what you would truly prefer, but so many times the students struggle to admit that they desire something when intellectually they are convinced it doesn’t exist or isn’t real.

One question asked if they would rather have their value be innate or dependent on their abilities. This one is always interesting, because the hard-working, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality comes out in full force even if it isn’t really what anyone would truly want. I asked what they preferred. Did they prefer to be worth something just because they exist or did they prefer to strive for worthiness?

So many of them argued that culturally our value is based on our net worth or the skills we’ve acquired or how gifted we are. I told them I understood that, but asked how do you want your value to be determined? Still some insisted that they would prefer that measuring rod of value.

Interestingly, some seemed to fear nobody would work hard if they just knew they were valuable. I wonder if it is because they work hard to be good and then they wonder what it would be like if everyone had value regardless of their skills. Perhaps it is because they feel validated by meeting certain expectations and don’t know what it would mean if those measuring rods were broken and thrown away. Who would they be without grades or athletic giftedness or money or determination?

And it just made my heart ache to see them striving so much. So many of our problems seem to stem from not knowing our true worth or identity. If we all fully understood it, perhaps we wouldn’t be compelled to step on other people or gossip or give up or lie or do whatever we do to get ahead. Or whatever we do to numb the feeling that we aren’t worth anything or can never amount to much. People suffer from not knowing their own true value more than being too full of their own giftedness. I’m quite confident that the ones who seem the most full of themselves are so because they recognize within themselves a radical insufficiency.

Continue reading “Quit Striving: You Are Already Valuable”

The Grace of Lesson Plans That Get Overthrown by Questions

The Grace of Lesson Plans That Get Overthrown by Questions

The lesson plan for the day was to discuss the argument from efficient causality.  Yet they managed to completely derail that plan.  When students ask questions that are about the faith and yet truly interest them, it is nearly impossible for me to continue with class as planned.  Interiorly, I am torn between following a schedule or curriculum and the desire to answer questions that organically spring up in their hearts.

Nine times out of ten I go with the questions they present to me.  I don’t believe I’ve ever regretted it, I only wish that each class would then magically divert itself in the same way.  Genuine curiosity and ponderings aren’t things you can manufacture in other classes.

“So is this argument saying that all things are caused to be by other things?  Or it is saying not all things are caused to be by other things?” I asked.
“I have a question that kind of relates but is off topic.  If God is caused or even if He isn’t caused, what is the point of life?  Like why did God make us?  What is our purpose?”

Those questions, dear readers, will definitely sidetrack me.  When senior boys are curious about why they were created and the meaning of life, I will dropkick lesson plans to spend time answering some of the biggest questions of life.

This is the class that argued with me about gravity objectively existing.  The day before this class, instead of working on an assignment they chose to ask me a thousand inane questions about my car, my hometown, and where my parents live.  So hearing one student start a conversation about the purpose of their lives and why God made them, and then hearing several other students jump in with follow-up questions, was a pure delight.  The only problem was the lack of time before the bell would ring.

To begin to answer their questions, I went back to the beginning.  The Trinity.  I spoke of how the Father and Son pour out a love that is so strong that it is another person, the Holy Spirit.  Within this communion of love, there is nothing that is lacking.  God was perfectly satisfied within this exchange of love.  Therefore, we are not needed.  God didn’t need us. Continue reading “The Grace of Lesson Plans That Get Overthrown by Questions”

The Deepest Longing of Our Hearts

The Deepest Longing of Our Hearts

“I guess I don’t like the argument from desire because I’ve never felt a desire for something that can’t be satisfied on earth.”

As a melancholic who has nearly always longed for something beyond this world, I was a bit surprised by this admission.  My class was reviewing arguments for God’s existence and as we went over each one, I would ask a few students to share if they liked or disliked the argument.  Then they needed to voice why, perhaps the most difficult part of it all for them.

I wanted them to reflect on the arguments and see which ones they found personally compelling.  Each person is different and so I wasn’t too concerned if they liked all of the arguments or not.  Yet it is always interesting to me which ones they dislike and why.  Some other students voiced a dislike for the desire argument, but the declaration that they had never desired something beyond this world seemed foreign to me.

Melancholic that I am, I have always longed for perfection.  Ever since high school and college, that has translated into a longing for Heaven.  So as my students were voicing that they have never experienced this unfulfilled desire for something beyond this world, I was left wondering why they don’t have a longing that I never remember being without.

In my first year of teaching, I prayed frequently for death.  Not in a morbid way, but in a longing-for-home-and-yet-knowing-everything-around-me-is-temporary way.  The more I battled with my students over Church teaching, the more I wanted to be in a place of eternal Goodness, Truth, and Beauty.  Yet that was far from the first time that I had felt an unfulfilled desire.  Why are my students not experiencing this also? Continue reading “The Deepest Longing of Our Hearts”

The Importance of Truth

The Importance of Truth

“At the end of the day, does it matter if we believe or not?  Does it matter what we believe?”

The other day, one of my students spoke these words with great sincerity.  We were in the midst of discussing arguments for God’s existence and he delved directly to the heart of the matter: does what we believe matter?

I knew this question was going to divert us from the lesson plan I had for the day.  We were supposed to go through a few of the arguments, discuss them, and then share what we thought about those particular arguments.  But I find it difficult to pass up opportunities to discuss aspects of the faith they are genuinely interested in discussing.

So I took the bait.

I posed a question to them: Does truth matter?

They thought for a moment and then began to offer their responses.

“Yes, truth matters.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
“It is simply a matter of opinion.”

This is the heart of many debates in religion, politics, science, and simply life in general: what is true?  And, perhaps a question posed more in today’s world than in previous centuries, does truth matter?

I talked to my students about how some truths are opinion based.  It is true that I think blue is the best color.  People have differing opinions on this matter and I don’t worry about people who prefer red or yellow or green.  These are truths that vary based on the person.

Yet there are truths that are objective.  These remain true regardless of my personal opinion, knowledge, or awareness of that truth.  Gravity did not become true when it was discovered or defined.  It is because it is true that it was able to be discovered and defined.

Naturally, I would argue the same thing about God.  Either God exists or He does not.  He doesn’t exist for some and then not exist for others.  He either is or is not and my opinion doesn’t change this reality.

“But couldn’t we all be wrong?” one student asks.

“Sure,” I tell them, “that is why we rely on faith in addition to reason.  We choose to believe even though we may be wrong.”

“Wow.”  At least one student seemed surprised by my admission that we could be wrong.

“What we need to do is to honestly pursue the truth.  I believe that if we honestly do that, we will find it.  Of course, you know what I think is true.  I think God is real and He exists.  But knowing and seeking the truth is important.  Because if God is not real, I want to know now.Continue reading “The Importance of Truth”

Monday Thoughts

Monday Thoughts

Thoughts for this day:

The God who created this vast universe with numerous solar systems and millions of planets and stars, also created the intricate design found within each cell in our body.

Sometimes a pan of sliced almonds set on broil (and forgotten about for eight or so minutes) will start a fire.  And it will cause you to call your dad into the room who will blow out the fire and dump out the ruined almonds.  It will also be a good dose of humility and remind your mom that things don’t matter–because you ruined her lovely new baking sheet. Continue reading “Monday Thoughts”

Pierced by Beauty

Pierced by Beauty

Nearly all of my students disagree with me, but you cannot convince me that beauty is not one of the most compelling arguments for God’s existence.

I understand, at least in part, the seeming flaws of the argument.  They protest that beauty is subjective and that nobody would believe in God simply because someone says there is lovely music or they saw a sunset.  Perhaps, perhaps most people would not listen to Bach and then profess belief in God.  But, perhaps some would, perhaps some have.

When I was in middle school, I read the book A Memory for Wonders.  It was by a French woman who was raised in Morocco because her parents, staunch atheists and communists, didn’t want anyone to speak to her about God, filling her mind with such superstitions.  Despite her parents’ best intentions, her initial experience of God took place when she was three years old.

“Suddenly the sky over me and in some way around me, as I was on a small hillock, was all afire.  The glory of the sunset was perhaps reflected in the myriads of particles of powdery sand still floating in the air.  It was like an immense, feathery flame all scarlet, from one pole to the other, with touches of crimson and, on one side, of deep purple.  I was caught in limitless beauty and radiant, singing splendor.  And at the same time, with a cry of wonder in my heart, I knew that all of this beauty was created, I knew God.  This was the word that my parents had hidden from me.  I had nothing to name him: God, Dieu, Allah or Yahweh, as he is named by human lips, but my heart knew that all was from him and him alone and that he was such that I could address him and enter into relationship with him through prayer.  I made my first act of adoration.”   A Memory for Wonders, Mother Mary Francis, p. 30

My parents spoke freely to me of God while I was growing up.  So this experience of seeing the beauty of a sunset and being unable to name the author of it, isn’t something I can share.  Yet I can share, in part, the feeling of piercing beauty at different sights and sounds.

It was during a semester studying abroad that the power of beauty become real to me.  Surrounded by history and architecture unlike any in the United States, I was continually amazed at what I saw.  In Switzerland, my heart ached as I walked around a lake and soaked in the beauty of mountains.  I was nearly in tears as I surveyed God’s handiwork, and I kept thinking, “No atheist can live in Switzerland.  How could you deny God in the midst of such splendor?”

I climbed a radio tower on a mountain in Austria and watched the sun rise.  As the light spread across the mountains, I felt fully alive.  My heart was in awe at the magnificence, at a beauty that did not need to be there even if the sun was necessary for our survival.  The glory of a sunrise is entirely “extra.”

gaming sunrise2

My awareness of the power of beauty began during my European adventure, but it has continued ever since.  Probably three times this week I have been near tears as I watched the sun rise or set.  My heart cannot stop itself from aching and expanding, my mouth uttering the briefest of prayers, “Lord!”  Beauty is not always warm and delightful.  Sometimes it aches: it is a blade, a spearing of the heart, a breaking into my world, and an unearthing of the hidden wellspring within.

For most, beauty may never transform their hearts of disbelieving atheism into ones of faith.  Yet for me, beauty is one of the most potent reminders of God’s presence.  It is a sunrise offered to millions and I look at it, bold colors covering the expanse of the prairie skies, and I think, “For me, Lord?”  For a little girl in Morocco decades ago, it was a sunset that started a relationship with the living God, one that grew into her conversion to Catholicism and her entrance into a religious community.

A heart that is able to see beauty is one that is more fully alive.  Beauty opens us up to an experience of something outside of ourselves.  It places us in a feeling of smallness at such majesty and yet a feeling of greatness to glimpse such sights.  You must be open to such beauty, however, to be transformed by it.

So, perhaps my students are right.  Beauty will never force people to believe in God.  It cannot overcome your free will.  But beauty, if you are open to it, can seize your heart, providing the ineffable conviction that the Creator of all this splendor must be worth seeking, following, and loving.

melk abbey