I came across a quotation in my studies of spiritual direction that I can’t stop thinking about. It’s from Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk who died unfortunately early by accidental electrocution in the 1960’s while visiting Thailand. I love all of his writing, but this quote is from “Conjecture of a Guilty Bystander.”
“To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence.”
I had to catch my breath after that. After a lifetime of trying to do everything for everyone, getting my own needs met through serving others, not thinking myself worth anything unless I was needed by someone, this helped me look at the concept of personal boundaries. If we violate our own self-boundaries, it is violence. This is a shocking revelation for me! We don’t have to perform for other people to be worthwhile human beings in the eyes of God. We breathe. We’re loved. It is enough! Who are we if we are not needed? Beloved sons and daughters, that’s who.
I refuse to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, and I refuse to commit myself to too many projects. I cannot help everyone in everything. More love. More gentleness. And no more violence.
I haven’t been here in a while. Part of it was fatigue, and being overwhelmed about various things. But I’m in a life transition right now–either in between jobs, or maybe I just finished my last job. Here is my favorite poem (that I found on a greeting card) that sums up how this feels right now:
“The Art of Disappearing”
When they say Don’t I know you?
When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
Someone is telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
If they say We should get together
It’s not that you don’t love them anymore.
You’re trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. The monastery bell at twilight.
Tell them you have a new project.
It will never be finished.
When someone recognizes you in a grocery store
nod briefly and become a cabbage.
When someone you haven’t seen in ten years
appears at the door,
don’t start singing him all your new songs.
You will never catch up.
Walk around feeling like a leaf.
Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time.
Naomi Shihab Nye, from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems (Far Corner Books, 1995)
This past Christmas we got to spend time with our 3 year old grandson and his parents. They live in the northern midwest, so we don’t get to see them nearly as often as I like. Generally, this little boy is moving at the speed just under light, and has a destructive streak a mile wide. A little tornado of energy. One afternoon however out of the blue, I saw the clouds roll in on his little world as he declared “Mommy, I’m sad.” Quiet tears rolled down his cheeks and his mother rocked him, and held him until his inner turmoil passed. He was subdued for about 15 minutes. His parents tell me he does this every so often…
Sometimes I’m too tired to read and too tired to sleep. That night, I heard a podcast from my favorite author, Father Ron Rohlheiser. He spoke about this sadness we have within each of us. We all came from God and will all return to God. Every human heart is imprinted with this longing for beauty, truth and goodness, and we all innately recognize this as human beings. This emptiness, this sadness we all carry with us, is a longing for things not of this world. A longing for God. We fill this longing with worldly things, like addictions, and endless pointless activities, anything to fill this God-shaped hole in our lives. Perhaps this child, with his little tears, is remembering this time when he saw God’s face. Perhaps this little boy, only a thousand days old, is closer to his Creator than I am.
“Nice going, dumb a**.”
This is a typical example of how I talk to myself. It probably wasn’t even a serious transgression. The other day, I laid out a new long skirt on my bed so I could cut off some extra fabric and wouldn’t trip on this skirt. I picked up part of my bedspread along with the skirt with my extra sharp scissors and cut a large gash in it. It wasn’t fixable.
Had a friend of mine done that to my bedspread, I would promise her it was OK, and I’ll just flip the bedspread over so it can’t be seen. Easy! But no such gentleness for myself. Why is that? Why are we harder on ourselves than any stranger we’ll ever meet? I challenge myself and others afflicted with this to soften this stance toward ourselves. I hear some people say when struck with a new realization that “God hit me over the head with a 2×4.” More likely, God kissed you on the forehead, and you were inclined to pay attention.
So how about a little gentleness. It’s just a bedspread after all…
Like many of us, I’ve lived my life making lists, setting goals, crossing them off, and setting the next goal. I would alternate this with ruminating about the past. With my re-conversion a few years ago, the truth that I had been forgiven of all things and I only had to ask for this forgiveness, freed me from the constant analyzing and reanalyzing of the past.
But I still have an issue with living in the future: “If this happens, then that can occur.” I never really enjoy the present moment, because my attention is turned to the next thing. Always on a time table of some sort.
I’ve been introduced to the concept of living contemplatively. Contemplation is described as a “long, loving look at the Real” (Fr Walter Burghardt). It is more than mindfulness because it is a nod to the God of the Cosmos who grants our every breath, counts every hair on our heads, and loves us beyond measure. What if it also means also to live “gloriously unhurried?” What if it meant putting the to do list aside and enjoying every sip of a perfectly extracted latte instead of slamming it down, hoping its enough caffeine to get you through the next couple of exhausting hours?
I’m going to try it, really try living in this present moment. Just for today. Tomorrow will likely be here soon enough.
I am still processing what happened to me on Thursday evening. Father Bashadora, affectionately known around the world as “Father Bash” from Uganda, came to our parish for a healing Mass. I’ve never been to one, and wasn’t sure what to expect.
It was transformational.
Before the Mass began, it was humbling to see the parade of the faithful with walkers, canes, scarves covering heads balding from chemotherapy, and even sickly children carried in the arms of their exhausted parents.
The Mass followed the usual pattern, but it had a charismatic feel to it. Father Bash, a small unassuming man, gave all credit for healing to Jesus Christ. Before long, our relatively conservative group of American Catholics were praying and singing, hands in the air for the flames of the Holy Spirit to descend upon us. And descend it did. I can see why the African Catholic Church is the fastest growing Church on earth. It was so freeing to pray in this way, body-mind-soul. I don’t know who was healed at this Mass, but I do know that trusting Jesus is first and foremost.
Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Mt 17:20). I imagine having faith like that. It is interesting that today I saw in the news that Tim Tebow, the Christian football player, has had a couple of incidences of “laying on of hands” that helped people heal.
“I do believe! Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)
I learned yesterday that Jesus taught us about life in 38 parables, and 19 of those had to do with how we handle money and possessions. This was a big topic in ancient times, and even more so today. While trying to pare down my possessions into two categories: useful or beautiful (thanks Marie Kondo!), I stumble especially with clothing.
Like many, I remember things I did or places I went in certain clothing and shoes. Also, my size varies from one decade to the next (mostly up), and I save clothes for “what if I lose weight,” since trying on and buying clothes is one chore I absolutely hate.
I have a dress I wore exactly 23 years ago, and it is the single item of clothing that I have, that has scored me more compliments than any other thing I’ve ever worn. It fit, it looked amazing on me, and it is way too small for me now. When I open my closet, and see that dress in the corner though, I feel defeated by it. Not happy. Stuck in the past. When I look at it now, it has shoulder pads (ugh), and is cut like an American Airlines flight attendant outfit. All I need are some plastic wings and a nametag and I could totally fake it. Except of course, I can’t fit into anymore.
So this morning I carefully folded that dress up, and put it in a bag for Goodwill. I’m not that person anymore, and that’s okay. Maybe someone can use it for Halloween. I can almost see someone pointing out the over wing exits while wearing it now…