“One of the tests for determining if the work of salvation in your life is genuine is—has God changed the things that really matter to you? If you still yearn for the old things, it is absurd to talk about being born from above—you are deceiving yourself.
–Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, entry for November 12
i guess we all yearn to be well-regarded. So it took me a long time to realize–to admit to myself–that I was not to have literary riches or fame, I was not to be a mother or wife, I was to remain celibate. All that I could accept, most days joyfully. Still I yearned, unconsciously, for social status. Let me be “popular” within my recovery circle, among my neighbors, on social media.
In the course of the yearning, I learned there’s a difference between resignation and acceptance. My underlying thought can’t be If I don’t put myself forward, I can’t be rejected or fail. I have to try as best I can and suffer defeat; to see that a lot of my actions and work are not much going to avail.
Then again, over time I’ve been given new eyes to see what “avails.” I hear from a few people each week who say that my work has consoled, inspired, accompanied, comforted, challenged, made laugh. And that comes to be enough–enough and then some. A cornucopia of “enough.” We’re all called to put out to the world what we can and what we’re moved to, simply as a more or less spontaneous desire to share the love of Christ.
NARROW IS THE GATE
As the things that really matter to us change, we become more able to enter through the “narrow gate.” The narrow gate has something to do, it seems to me, with vulnerability, not doing good deeds. It’s an orientation of heart. A true desire for relationship, and a corresponding willingness to let everyone off the hook. We have to want more to give a good account of ourselves to God than to cultivate an image in front of our friends, family, public, or peers. We get to make amends, where due, admit our own mistakes, offer peace, express the need for connection, then let things be and move forward.
“Unbelievers can love others with a magnificent love. But we haven’t been called to this kind of loving. It is not our love that we have to offer, it is the love of God…Supernatural love has to be Jesus’ kind of love; that is to say it has to be incarnate and redemptive. This is not a spiritual love but a love in the flesh (see the parable about the Last Judgment [i.e. Mt 25, the Sheep and the Goats]). It does not give happiness but “buys into” the Beatitudes. This love becomes a goal that is impossible for us to reaach when it is spiritualized, when it is so to speak “unfleshed” from our humanity and no longer attends to genuine human needs.”
—Madeleine Delbrêl, The Joy of Believing
Well that’s good news, because left to my own devices, I can work up zero love for the vast number of people who annoy, frighten or perplex me. But we have to bring our body, one way or another, to this supernatural kind of love. Marriage, for example, is one way of bringing the body; celibacy is another–both, if done intentionally, consciously, sacramentally, a laying down of our lives for our friends.
As for general human interaction, we have to bring our minds, souls, strength to the person in front of us–to be present, to pay attention, to continually stretch ourselves way beyond our comfort zones. We don’t get to sequester ourselves from the Other, whoever the Other may be to us. We may or may not be hands-on works of mercy types. We may or may not be plcketers and placard bearers. But we need to back up our prayer with “work” of one kind or another that is more than writing a check or having an opinion. Ora et labora, as the monks say: prayer AND work.
Again, this needn’t be anything fancy. The other say I was sweeping up around my desk and noticed a tiny brad that had dropped to the floor while I was hanging Christmas lights. I could have just brushed it into the dustpan but “Waste not want not,” I heard my late sainted mother say, and I also heard Thérèse of Lisieux: “To pick up a pin for love can save a soul.”
So I laughed and bent down and picked up that tiny nail and returned it to its right container, not just to be thrifty, but with a conscious intention of love even though my back was killing me and it hurt to bend down.
This idea of bringing our bodies is another reason I’m so attached to walking. I often walk to Mass, maybe a half hour each way, when I could drive as a conscious offering of all that I am, puny though that is. Having fasted for an hour before, what with the walk there, Mass, and the walk back, I’m usually somewhat hungry the whole time, so this is another kind of very gentle, very rudimentary offering that I can make, for whatever it’s worth.
Since I often attend the 5:15 at the Newman Center, it’s dark when I emerge, and I have to cross a super busy intersection, I have even purchased myself a little walking flashlight with a beam at one end and a red flasher on the other: a huge concession to safety, age, and the part of the narrow gate that says We know you’re a free spirit but no need as well to be a heedless ass.
The point being (you might well be wondering) that my life becomes ever more of a piece. I don’t have to separate times of prayer, times of “work,” times when I’m “contributing,” times when I’m “sacrificing.” Times when I’m conscious of Christ, times when I’m not. It’s all work and it’s all prayer, and the things that really matter to me ever evolve.
Right now, for instance, I’m kind of obsessed with my birdfeeders and Christmas cards. I’m reading Ruth Butler’s Hidden in the Shadow of the Master: The Model-Wives of Cézanne, Monet, and Rodin. I’m headed downtown to buy a gift for dear friends at the Tucson Museum of Art store and while there, will shoot over to the MSA Annex and treat myself to a Mt. Fuji rice bowl.
I’m planning a trip to White Sands next April. I/ve already been to morning Mass. In short, my life is so bountiful, so extravagant, that I might just be too fat at the moment to fit through the narrow gate!
Blessed Second Sunday of Advent–