Gratitude Begets Gratitude

Gratitude Begets Gratitude

Do you know what it takes to get a compliment from a senior?  You keep them after class under the threat of a detention and listen to them try to get out of it.

Some students are just harder to love than others.  It isn’t impossible to love them, but the effort that goes into desiring to love them is significantly more.  So when a student that fits in this category pushes matters too far, I have to reflect more about the consequences that behavior should incur.  Because part of me wants to go all out and give them a harsh consequence.  The cumulation of past difficulties with that student or the tension of the particular day must all be weighed to guarantee that the punishment given fits that individual crime.

Yet I’m certain that just as some students are harder by nature to love, some teachers must fall into the same camp.  I can definitely acknowledge that I’m not the most loved teacher and I am pretty convinced that I never will be.  That doesn’t generally bother me because I’ve experienced life in a rather similar state.  High school and college didn’t find me as the most popular person around; therefore, I didn’t expect something magical to happen when I started teaching.

Despite not being the most loved, I do find comfort in being loved by some.  As an introvert, that is all I really need anyway–a few people who see under the often reserved exterior.  Those glimpses of love and appreciation from students does far more to boost me than they know.  At the end of the school year, a student stopped in with a present for me and she thanked me for my patience over the past year.  A few students wrote appreciation letters when given the chance for teacher appreciation week.  Another student chose to write his own addition to the journal entries I assigned.

That last one perhaps struck me the most.  Continue reading “Gratitude Begets Gratitude”

Unnecessarily Beautiful

Unnecessarily Beautiful

Beauty is unnecessary.

I thought about how unnecessary beauty is as I sat in the Cathedral and listened to an orchestra play.  Although an amateur lover of beauty, I was able to see the magnificence of the architecture and the glory of the music coming from a variety of instruments.  Providence placed us nearly as close to the orchestra as we could be without holding an instrument ourselves.  Yet several times throughout the evening I would think about how unnecessary this all was.

If the world came from chaos and all of life means nothing, I am struck by the existence of the beautiful.  Beauty is unneeded for life to exist.  It is entirely extra and unnecessary.  Yet while unneeded, it is the joie de vivre of life.  While we could live without it, we would not want to do so.  It enriches life ten-fold and I think that is as the Lord wanted.

We have a place in our hearts for the beautiful.  It is why some people spend so much time staging pictures.  We are drawn toward the beautiful.  Although any mug would work for coffee, I am far more likely to choose the ones I deem more beautiful in some way.  It is beauty that makes me notice the trees etched in silver or the special smile on my niece’s face.  Beauty bypasses the need for reason, although we can give reason for why we find something beautiful, if pressed.

The Lord is the one of which all the beautiful, transitory things on earth reflect a glimmer.  My heart is being prepared to encounter Beauty Himself when I take in the toothless grin of my nephew or the majesty of the Sistine Chapel.  When I encounter Him in the simplistic beauty that surrounds me, I am widening my heart to receive more of Him later on.   Continue reading “Unnecessarily Beautiful”

That Others May Be Chosen

That Others May Be Chosen

The Litany of Humility is one of those prayers that I hate.  And love.  And wish I loved more, but am a bit scared by.  If ever there was a prayer that could level a solid crushing blow to the ego, I believe the Litany of Humility is a top contender.

“That others may be chosen and I set aside,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.”

There are several parts during this prayer that cause me to cringe, and this line is one of them.  This cringing comes from the fact that I do not actually desire this to be true.  It seems like it would be too difficult if this went from prayer to actuality.

Simply put: I want to be chosen.

Doesn’t everyone want to be chosen?  I want to be the chosen confidant.  I want to be the dearly loved and chosen friend.  I want to be the favorite teacher.  I want to be the one people choose to ask questions because they think I will know the answer.  I want people to choose to read what I write.  For so many things, I want people to choose me. Continue reading “That Others May Be Chosen”

That Time I Went To A Club

That Time I Went To A Club

They thought it would be funny to go into the club.  It was a Saturday evening and we were walking downtown.  As I fished around in my wallet for my ID, I could hear the strong beat of music that poured out past the bouncer, who waited with a flashlight and outstretched hand.  This was a place very clearly out of my element.

We entered the club and I started taking it all in.  I wasn’t really dressed for the place, but I wasn’t entirely a misfit.  I tried to keep my facial expressions neutral as we climbed the steps to the second level.

One.  I started a mental count of former students.  Luckily, I never moved beyond one.

On the second floor, I saw the long bar, people pressed up alongside it four deep.  I really wanted to not look like a fish out of water, but I must have failed because my friends were amused by my expressions.

“Just dance,” they told me, as the music blared across the sea of people. Continue reading “That Time I Went To A Club”

Into the Wilderness

Into the Wilderness

“A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God…'” (Isaiah 40: 1)

For some reason, Jesus is really intent on going into forests and deserts.  As I am looking at this passage, one I have heard numerous times, I am struck by His desire to go to the wild places.  A bit comically, I begin to imagine Jesus delving into the thick underbrush of a forest or having a road built into a stretching expanse of sand.

What is that wilderness He wants to dive into?

Ah.  My heart.  

It is a wild place, overgrown with weeds and bad habits.  Other places are deserts, barren and uninhabited.  Jesus wants to enter into those places.

I find myself attempting to redirect Him.  “Look, Jesus, a lovely little valley!  Come admire this place that has it all together, a place that isn’t messy….Oh, a lively garden, teeming with life.  Isn’t this nice, Jesus?”  He looks at these places, smiles at me, and then heads back into the desert.

But, Jesus, there is nothing to see there. Continue reading “Into the Wilderness”

Tangible

Tangible

The Lord understands the need we have for the tangible.

We have a soul gifted with intellect and free will.  In this way, we share in the likeness of God.  Yet we also have bodies and this is no small part of who we are.  We are not to have a Puritanical mindset that declares the body is bad.  Our bodies matter.  This physical world matters.  And God reaches out to us in the midst of what we know and understand.

Over the past few days, I have soaked in the beauty of the tangible in the Catholic faith.  On Ash Wednesday, we have a cross of ashes inscribed on our foreheads.  We hear, “You are dust and to dust you shall return.”  Remember, remember the brevity of life.  It is hard to miss the symbolism–our bodies will return to dust, like the dust from which Adam was formed.  Our life is fleeting and we do not hold within ourselves the meaning for our own existence.  Civilizations and generations will return to nothing.  We are called to remember that our treasure should rest in something other than these earthen vessels, something that will survive time.

Even as we are told to look beyond the physical, the very means of this heavenly gaze is found in the physically tangible.  The black ashes that seal your forehead.  The words we hear that speak of the end for our physical bodies.  Physical signs point to spiritual realities and truths.

That evening I went to a funeral home for my uncle’s wake.  My four year old nephew wanted to touch my ashes and so I tried to keep him at an arm’s length.  When he saw me the next day at the funeral, he noted that the thing on my forehead was gone.  Sometimes kids have the appropriate response.  Familiarity leads adults to see the ashes as commonplace, but my nephew was intrigued by the smudge on my face.  In a way, he saw that the ashes said something significant.

At the funeral there were numerous tangible elements.  The body is reverenced in a way that might surprise us if we pause to think about it.  No longer is this the person we knew, but yet we bring the body into the church.  The casket enclosing the body is nearest the altar, as we hope that this person is nearest the throne of God, participating in the eternal Wedding Banquet of the Lamb.  We cover the casket with a white cloth, remembering their baptism into the death of Christ and into His everlasting life.  The pallbearers, an honor given to a few friends or relatives of the deceased, carry or follow the body from the church to the hearse and from the hearse to the grave site.  This isn’t a task relegated to people paid to help with the funeral, but rather is seen as an honor.  The importance of the body causes us to have a committal ceremony where we place the body into the ground.  We mark it and return to visit this place even though the body will return to dust and the person as we knew them does not remain.

Our physical body matters.  The physical world matters.  The Catholic Church has a beautiful tradition of keeping this in mind.  Whether it is investing in beautiful basilicas or commissioning great works of art, the Church sees the beauty in calling to mind the spiritual through the physical.  Other churches see it, too, but I would say the Church has a deeper understanding.  Weekly, we come together to be nourish by the Bread of Life, by the Body of Christ.  We enter a room or a box and we hear the words that declare that our sins are forgiven.  In entering the the mystical Body of Christ, we are plunged into water as a sign of the cleansing of our soul.

The Catholic Church is all about the incarnational.  Jesus Christ entered into the physical and the tangible.  Of course, we can say that God would completely understand human nature even if He never took it on because He is all-knowing.  But it adds a depth when we acknowledge that He chose to take on human nature so that His knowledge would be experiential and His experience salvific.  

By doing this, He shows us that holiness is pursued through the physical and the spiritual realms.  It isn’t only about the soul and deep meditative prayer.  It isn’t necessary to retire to a desert cave to live on little food and spend days in ecstasy, although He does call some to that life.  The Church has the spiritual and the corporal works of mercy.  It is not enough to admonish the sinner, we must also give drink to the thirsty.  It is insufficient to teach/instruct the ignorant (although important and, technically, my job) but we must also bury the dead.  In the Catholic tradition, we have the great both/and.  We are called to pursue the delicate balance of body and soul, both seen as important aspects of who we are as human beings.

At times, we want to accuse God of being silent or distant.  We ask Him why He does not reveal more of Himself to us or why He requires such faith to believe in Him.  Yet He gives us many signs of His presence with us.  The sanctuary candle that burns in every Catholic church, indicating that the King of Kings is present.  A hand raised in absolution also involves a voice audibly telling you that all is forgiven.  The nearly scandalous declaration of love and sacrifice found in each depiction of the crucifixion.  We belong to a church that firmly declares that Christ walked with us yesterday and still walks with us today in a very concrete way.

God knows what we need.  We have one foot on earth and one in heaven.  And He meets us in both ways.  He is a God who is tangibly with us.  Emmanuel.  God with us.  Our foreheads have been sealed with ashes where we declare that we have sinned and that we are destined to return to dust.  He encounters us, mercifully, in that declaration.  We seek Christ in this desert walk, in these forty days of sacrifice.  How will we tangibly encounter Him?  How will our body and soul be in the union they were created to live in?