A Pencil in the Hand of God

Given what Mother Teresa achieved in her life, we might think she is being too modest. But if we understand we are in God’s hands, then thinking of ourselves as “a little pencil” is a good place to start. And more, when you realize that God’s intent is to send a love letter to the world through your one humble and extraordinary life, then may we consider ourselves blessed:

A Blessing for Writers,

May you be enlivened to write big stories as a little pencil.

May you recognize the dignity of your work.

May you do your art as beautifully as possible.

May you understand the message is always the love of God.

May you not cheapen it by greed or diminish it by pride.

May you feel the freedom of your expansive horizon.

May you envision the wider wonder world of the Creator.

May you know the joy of God’s hand as He writes with your little pencil…

Posted in Prayers, Proverbs | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Windows of Art

Van Gogh’s “Laboureur dans un champ”

In 1889 van Gogh painted “Laboureur dans un champ” – a farmer plowing the land, which was the view from his window at the hospital. He left the asylum in May 1890;  two months later, at age 37, he shot himself in the chest.

Perhaps in hopelessness he could not imagine the mystery of his worth in the way that, as a poor artist, he could not imagine this painting would one day sell for over $81 million.

What do you see through your window?

In Ken Gire’s book, “Windows of the Soul: Hearing God in the Everyday Moments of Your Life,” he has a chapter on “Windows of Art” where he starts by quoting Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “The Nobel Lecture on Literature”:

“Art can warm even a chilled and sunless soul to an exalted spiritual experience. Though art we occasionally receive – indistinctively, briefly – revelations the likes of which cannot be achieved by rational thought.

It is like the small mirror of legend: you look into it but instead of yourself you glimpse for a moment the Inaccessible, a realm forever beyond reach. And your soul begins to ache…”

Gire’s response to the windows of art is this prayer for humility:

A Payer for Humility

Help me, O God,

To have the humility to sit at the feet of great art, 

whether it is a painting or a person on the street,

a scene from a movie or score from a musical

a sunset or a psalm,

and to look and to listen and to receive

what is being offered me there.

Give me the grace to submit to its scrutiny,

seeking not to do something to it,

but that it might do something to me;

seeking not in some way to judge it,

but that it might in some way judge me… 

What do you see through your window?

Reflect on what you may hear God say in the everyday moments of your life.

For more see “The window as a symbol in art” by Elena Nastyuk

Or, “Scenes from the artist’s window” at christies.com

Posted in Prayers | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Practice Resurrection

The line above comes from a poem by Wendell Berry that seems fitting this Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday – especially as he encourages us to live counter-culturally – and to “Practice Resurrection.”

Let each line exhort, rebuke, and otherwise enlighten you. And then go and practice resurrection!

(Thanks to Context Institute for permission to re-post).

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

“Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” from The Country of Marriage, copyright © 1973 by Wendell Berry, reprinted by permission of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.

One of the articles in Reclaiming Politics (IC#30)
Originally published in Fall/Winter 1991 on page 62
Copyright (c)1991, 1996 by Context Institute; permission granted March 19, 2021 to re-post here.

Posted in Poems, Prayers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fall in Love, Stay in Love

The Enduring Question

How do we find what we are meant to do?  This is the infamous and expansive search – the quest for our unique calling. What on earth am I here for?  What am I supposed to DO with my life?   Karen Yates

When Bill Haley tries to answer the enduring question, he quotes this remark by Jesuit Pedro Arrupe who spontaneously answered a group facing the same question:

Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything.

Ruminate on this. Think of all you’ve done; all you’ve been doing; and consider what it means to fall in love with God in an absolute and final way; how this love would seize your imagination and affect everything it integrates.

It resonates with Augustine who said the question What do you love? is the most important of all. Our loves reveal or betray what we are about; “it goes to the heart of who we are,” Garber states. Our loves are a clue to our purpose.

When I as young in my faith, I had many detractors who cautioned, warned, even argued that I was taking this love all “too seriously.”  In fact, I was just beginning to understand the secret of this short life; and it was bewildering to me why others weren’t falling over themselves into the love for which we are made.

It is an exuberant foolish healing love; and if you will be so foolish too, then happily fall in love with the Lover of our souls – love with the One who made us for Himself.

The life story, the witness of heroic leadership and the sheer goodness of Pedro Arrupe give evidence of a man who found God in this broken world, a man who found God in others and a man who learned, above all, to trust love. This simple truth dominates Arrupe’s later writings, including his last major essay on Ignatian spirituality, “Rooted and Grounded in Love” (1981). 

Posted in Proverbs | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Time Will Come

Norman Rockwell, Girl at Mirror, 1954, oil on canvas, 31.5 x 29.5 inches, The Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge MA. Image first appeared on the cover of the March 6, 1954 edition of The Saturday Evening Post


The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self. Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes, peel your own image from the mirror. Sit. Feast on your life.

(Derek Walcott, 1992 Nobel Prize in literature)

My long time friend and mentor Bob Thiessen wrote:

“This poem from Derek Walcott has been like the 2 faithful sheep dogs from Psalm 23, beauty and love, chasing after me in the meadows. “Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life”.

The shocking beauty of Walcott’s poem is the invitation to offer hospitality to ourselves of the sort we would extend to someone we love. As I grow older, I find that my need to be hospitable towards myself also grows stronger. To speak words of kindness in the company of disparaging thoughts. To ensure that the landscape inside me stays friendly even as I confront my darker side and a sometimes failing body.

Being kind towards myself feels like the right way to enter 2021.

And we know that learning to love ourselves is the starting point for learning to love others. How I treat myself will ultimately determine how I treat others. Even Jesus once said: “Love others as well as you love yourself” (Mark 12,31).

This poem brings me to reflection. Who is the stranger in me that is waiting to be rediscovered and loved again? What sort of hospitality am I offering to myself? Is there a love letter waiting to be written to myself? What would I say?”

To listen to the poem being read, see “Love After Love.”

Who is the stranger in me waiting to be rediscovered and loved?

A wonderful question.

And it is answered in a different way by the Norman Rockwell painting above. Russ Ramsey writes this about the Girl at Mirror:

“Each of these little composition decisions that Rockwell made to dress the scene come together to tell us that this girl is someplace between being a child and a woman, and she knows it.

When we look at this painting, we wonder what she is thinking about. Will she put on her play clothes or try on one of her older sister’s dresses? Will she lace up her scuffed saddle shoes or take her first awkward walk across a room in heels? Does the woman from whom she borrowed the brush and make-up know she took them? Is she hiding? How private is this moment supposed to be?

We wonder about these things, but we also know this girl. We’ve all been where she is, trying to look through the mirror to what might become of us. We’ve all felt stuck between two eras. We’ve all wondered how we can get from here to there. We know what it is like to sit in that posture, all gathered in on ourselves. Her eyes seem to plead with the girl in the mirror for some sort of answer, or at least help in figuring out what questions she should be asking. We’re all “trying to estimate our own charms.”

And just like that, Norman Rockwell leads us into a private room filled with weighty questions about who we are and who we were meant to be, and he leaves us there alone to pine…. when I look at Girl at Mirror, I see the brilliance of an artist whose work echoes what Frederick Buechner said: “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”[*]

Or as Walcott would put in, “Sit here. Eat. Feast on your life.”

Posted in Poems | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Beginning And The End

Image: Opera.wolftrap.org

I have always wondered at T.S. Elliot’s famous ending from The Little Gidding, the last of his Four Quartets:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.

Since poems are designed to be pondered, I will not indulge you with my musings; I will encourage you to savour or wrestle with it.  I was reminded of this poem again when I recently came upon a Franciscan saying:

He has put a path before you that always leads to Him. No matter what vocation He calls you to, you have only to be willing and to listen to take the path He puts before you.

Knight of the Holy Eucharist

Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.  He is, as Leonard Sweet says, “the centre and circumference of the spiritual life”.  He is both the subject and the object of our prayer, and every path we take always leads to Him if only we are willing to listen and take the path before us.  It resonates with the Proverb:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways know him,
    and he will make your paths straight

Every path you take can be the path to know Him. In fact this proverb tells us to make sure that whatever path you travel – you intend to know Him – for no matter what route you take, in all your ways seek, ask, knock to know Him.

The way you take and know Him is the path God straightens so that it always leads to Him.

May we have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Posted in Proverbs | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

To Leave Something Behind

To Leave Something Behind, by Sean Rowe

I cannot say that I know you well
But you can’t lie to me with all these books that you sell
I’m not trying to follow you to the end of the world
I’m just trying to leave something behind

Words have come from men and mouse
But I can’t help thinking that I’ve heard the wrong crowd
When all the water is gone my job will be too
And I’m trying to leave something behind

Oh money is free but love costs more than our bread
And the ceiling is hard to reach
Oh the future ahead is broken and red
But I’m trying to leave something behind

This whole world is a foreign land
We swallow the moon but we don’t know our own hand
We’re running with the case but we ain’t got the gold
Yet we’re trying to leave something behind

My friends I believe we are at the wrong fight
And I cannot read what I did not write
I’ve been to His house, but the master is gone
But I’d like to leave something behind

There is a beast who has taken my blame
You can put me to bed but you can’t feel my pain
When the machine has taken the soul from the man
It’s time to leave something behind

Oh money is free but love costs more than our bread
And the ceiling is hard to reach
Oh the future ahead is already dead
And I’m trying to leave something behind

I got this feeling that I’m still at the shore
And pockets don’t know what it means to be poor
I can get through the wall if you give me a door
So I can leave something behind

Oh wisdom is lost in the trees somewhere
You’re not going to find it in some mental gray hair
It’s locked up from those who hurry ahead
And it’s time to leave something behind

Oh money is free but love costs more than our bread
And the ceiling is hard to reach
When my son is a man he will know what I meant
I was just trying to leave something behind
I was just trying to leave something behind

Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Sean Rowe
To Leave Something Behind lyrics © Peermusic Publishing

“I’m trying to leave something behind.”

It kind of sticks with you well after you’ve listened to it.  Jake Owensby writes:

“This hook from Sean Rowe’s song “To Leave Something Behind” has lodged itself in my heart and in my theological imagination lately. These words crystallize a yearning that shapes my life, at least on my best days.

Wanting to leave something behind contrasts sharply with wanting to make a name for myself. I’m not interested in slapping my name on buildings or hats or t-shirts. Creating a stir with my tweets and making headlines do not inspire me…

Leaving something behind isn’t about me. On the contrary, it’s about devoting myself to something larger than myself. A common good. A world that will nurture and sustain others, including and especially those who come after me.

Leaving something behind doesn’t mean making a better place for myself in the world. It means making the world a better place for everybody…”

What are you leaving behind?

Posted in Poems | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments