All there is
I was sitting with a young woman I have known for many years. We have walked and talked side by side through “many dangers, toils and snares.” And there have been some very, very good times as well. We’ve held on during the storms and celebrated and savored the blessings and answers to prayer.
This past week, we met once again. I kept hearing her say, in a variety of ways, “Is this all there is?” There did not seem to be any giants to topple or parties at which to dance. All was still, and it had a very unfamiliar name: contentment. Sometimes we call this strange state of being “living in the now.”
The territory is so new to many of us that we wonder if something isn’t wrong. Shouldn’t we be working toward something? Aren’t there any personality kinks to straighten out? Where are the crises in which we felt so alive? Should we be reaching forward? Shouldn’t we be digging deeper within? We almost feel guilty!
I remember the days, now long ago, when I walked with my spiritual director through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. The Jesuit movement was founded by Ignatius de Loyola, a Spanish soldier turned priest, in August 1534. The Exercises are a journey through the life of Jesus, entering into his humanity and growing closer to him because of it (a very simplistic description but will have to suffice for now). The journey is divided into four weeks which can be done in 40 days, nine months or longer, if need be.
Later on, in my training as a spiritual director, I recall Fr. Bernie speaking to us about the Exercises. Some brave soul raised her hand and asked, “What about after the Exercises? Once we walk through the resurrection with Jesus, what happens then?” And his reply?
We happen to be in a season of Ordinary Time. Ordinary Time is celebrated in two segments: from the Monday following the Baptism of Our Lord up to Ash Wednesday; and from Pentecost Monday to the First Sunday of Advent. This makes it the largest season of the Liturgical Year. It may also mirror the largest segment of our lives.
The challenge is for us to be able to truly live in ordinary time, one day at a time, with gratitude for what we see and experience on a daily basis. Some may call this mundane. Others call it boring. People of faith can experience this as contentment.
According to Wikipedia, Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection (c. 1614 – 12 February 1691) served as a lay brother in a Carmelite monastery in Paris. Christians commonly remember him for the intimacy he expressed concerning his relationship to God as recorded in a book compiled after his death, the classic Christian text, The Practice of the Presence of God." For Brother Lawrence, "common business," no matter how mundane or routine, could be a medium of God's love. The sacredness or worldly status of a task mattered less than motivation behind it. "Nor is it needful that we should have great things to do. . . We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God."
Perhaps our guilt should be discarded as we begin to view ordinary time as a time to see God at work in a myriad of small ways, a time to cultivate gratitude and value simplicity.
Our world is so complicated and busy. May we truly appreciate the ordinary things of life so that we can be content “in whatever state (we) find ourselves.” (St Paul in Philippians 4:11)