Fairly often, Catholics will shove the suffering soul down the path of more pain, urging her to offer it up, be strong, seek holiness. They subtly chide her for even looking for rest and healing, as if holiness can’t be reached through simple obedience, but must be sought out through self-immolation — the more wretched, the better.
Somehow at one and the same time, He is the flower of all creation, the open, shining blossom of the Father’s love, and also the tightly furled kernel of blessed humanity, ready to become anything we need Him to be.
Anxiety is like a strangling vine. Rooting it out feels perilous, because you’re afraid that all the wholesome, fruitful shoots will be uprooted along with it. If I stop fretting, will I stop caring? If I stop freaking out, will I stop making an effort? If I’m not suffering, is it really love?
Thanks for taking us out past the playground into the warm, dim, shadowy woods so we could drink our cartons of milk on a carpet of pine needles while you read to us about The Little Red Hen. I really liked it.
Photo by Yogurt yeah [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
By the end of the day, I was almost singing. It was one of the happiest days of my life. It was so good that I return to the memory of it from time to time, and come away refreshed, because I saw so clearly the truth of how much goodness and mercy surrounded me on that day and every day. Maybe I’ll even try it again someday!
But I guarantee you that it would not have worked if it had been foisted upon me by someone who thought I was defective because I thought my hard life was hard. The holiest people I know are strict with themselves, but merciful and sympathetic to others.
I could say, “I’m not pregnant, and I’m not going to have a baby, and this is not a pregnancy announcement, but I have a different, non-pregnancy-type announcement to make, which is not about a baby in any way. Here’s my announce–” and twelve people will cut me off to shriek, “OH MY GOSH, IS THIS A PREGNANCY ANNOUNCEMENT?”
Yes. Sure. It’s a pregnancy announcement, and I’m naming the baby after you. I think Shut Uppa You Face Fisher has a nice ring to it, don’t you?
He delights and is glad to hear us thank Him, but it doesn’t encourage Him to give us good things, any more a stream is encouraged to keep on flowing when a deer stops to drink in it. Flowing is what the stream is for, and it’s not going to pack itself up and leave in a huff if the deer isn’t properly grateful.
The deer, however, may suffer if it can’t linger long enough to enjoy having its thirst quenched.
How strange that it’s still so hard to pray. How strange that I have to learn it over and over again. Maybe some people take to it more naturally, but I constantly find myself coming to it like a rank amateur, making silly mistakes, sheepishly repenting, and starting over again.
Image: detail of photo by By Chris Creagh (Creative Commons)
A dead leaf threw itself under the windshield wiper blade and was dragged back and forth three times before it was released by the wind. “Take the exit,” my phone barked, but I was in the wrong lane to exit.
The sky grew darker, and then I was lost. I lost my nerve, I fell apart, became unravelled, was utterly helpless in the teeth of terror as I drove. It was a formless kind of multi-terror, with no particular name and no discernible end, and it shook me like helpless prey.
What is our final project? Ah, that’s the tricky part. If I’m making a lobster costume or a vampire costume, I have a general idea of how it needs to look when it’s done. But when it’s our own selves we’re working on, there is less clarity, less certainty. We’re not in the process of making a costume or a disguise; we’re in the process of becoming who we are meant to be. If we have a clear picture in our heads of who we’re meant to be — or, even worse, if we think we’ve already become it — we’re probably wrong. Sorry!
Image of unfinished Godzilla costume courtesy of John Herreid