Go placidly amid the noise and haste
and remember what peace there may be in silence...
I've always had an affinity for the poem quoted above... So much so that I memorized in high school and did a "dramatic rendering" of it in my freshman English class... When I graduated from 8th grade our language arts teacher gave each of us a copy of it and said that it as good advice as we moved on from St. Mary's. How right she was... wise woman.
So, I've been thinking about blogging for a while - more than a month to be exact. Every time I thought to myself, "I'll blog later today" or "I'll blog tomorrow morning" things never went the way I thought they would. When do they ever?!
It's been a good month. Time seems to go a little too quickly, however. In order to try to capture the events and learnings since last I wrote, I thought I would use "Desiderata" to frame things... instead of writing about what's been happening in life in chronological order... (yes, I'm stepping out of my comfort zone and doing something new & different! Hard to believe, I'm sure!)...
"Go placidly amid the noise and haste, a remember what peace there may be in silence."
This summer began with my annual retreat. 8 days of silence in the hills of West Virginia. I went with a group from UD - all theology or pastoral ministry grad students or PhD candidates. There were 10 of us on retreat together with 2 spiritual directors. It was a fantastic way to begin the summer. The sunsets were phenomenal... I saw many deer, turtles, rabbits, and fascinating birds... God and I had many good conversations as I took my morning and evening walks. There was a room called the "listening room" at the retreat center. In that room there was a cd player and classical cds. I listened to hours of Chopin and Mozart as I wrote in my journal and drew mandalas. It was a very creative retreat for me. Any of you who have met me or know me personally know that I am no artist. I get too frustrated because my creations aren't perfect. But, for some reason I was much more free during this time of retreat - I sat with a huge box of Crayolas (did you know they come in insane numbers like 124?!) and paper and just colored... and drew... with no plan... no sketching... and no self-judging. That in and of itself is a grace!
There were many quotes from Scripture on which I meditated on retreat. But the one that stands out most to me as being particularly significant was "I have told you this that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete." from John's gospel. It's part of the last supper discourse when Jesus is teaching about remaining in God's love. Joy... the result of remaining in union with God and living a life of love. Joy... the result of living the life you are called to live and doing it with abandon into God's love. Why I had never really thought about things that way or from that perspective, I will never know. I am certainly glad that it was one of the graces of the retreat, though! As St. Iraneus said, "The glory of God is the human person fully alive."
"As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story."
Coming off retreat I was filled with a sense of understanding what it might mean to love... even in situations or with people that I don't particularly care for. I am constantly learning how to love. It's the lesson that community and religious life in general teaches over and over... which is good, because I think I must be a slow learner! What catches me about this part of the "Desiderata" is the idea of speaking the truth... and being on good terms with people. When I first arrived in San Antonio I had two experiences of friends who are typically positive, upbeat people... however, both were not necessarily in "good space" and so were almost cynical. It took me by surprise in both situations. My typical response would be to respond by being brought down and thinking that I had done something to cause the negative dynamic. This time, though... I was able to maintain my slightly more optimistic-realism and realize it wasn't about me. There's a novel idea... it's not always about me. :) And I pray that joy might be theirs again.
"Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit."
This statement is so true... and yet, how does one actually do that? I'm not sure, really. Although, I do think it's important to pay attention to the attitudes of the people with whom I spend time... which relationships encourage love, faith, prayer... and which don't?
Recently I was in Chicago for the Catholics on Call young adult conference (http://www.catholicsoncall.org/). No worries... I know I'm not a "young adult" anymore. I was there as a mentor/small group facilitator. I came away from that experience with a lot to ponder... to pray about... and a very long list of books I "should" read. However, in relation to this part of the "Desiderata" I remember something that the founder of "Harmony, Hope & Healing" (www.harmonyhopeandhealing.org/) said to us. We were talking about how she understood her ministry as her vocation and she came to found this fantastic ministry. She talked to us about the importance of surrounding ourselves with people who support us. When she first started thinking about how she could use her musical talents to serve the needs of the poor/homeless in Chicago, she met with a lot of resistance and questions from members of her family. But, she felt called to this... so she surrounded herself with supportive people... And eventually... she was able to found this organization.
"If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time."
This particular line... while not exactly my perspective (Career?... nope. Vocation? yes!) I do think it's true that comparing ourselves with others can be damaging....
"Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass."
I'm not sure why this particular sections starts with a statement about business. But... in a world where the news is filled with evidence of sinfulness, injustice, and selfishness... it's easy for me to get overwhelmed with grief for the state of our world. Or on closer to home, inequity all around in the educational system... the division in the Church... It could be easy for me to become cynical or jaded. But I've realized over the years, and especially in this summer, that my initial attitude is typically one of trust in the goodness of the other. Yes, it's caused me pain through the years, but somehow I think I'd rather go through life being who I am rather than a cynical shell of myself.
"Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness."
Next week I will be 35. THIRTY-FIVE! That almost seems impossible. I realize that 35 is not that old. In fact, in the grand scheme of life, it's still fairly young. However, I also am starting to grasp that maturity and wisdom are good things to continue to grow towards. Mind you, I realize that I'm not always the most mature person in a room full of peers. The thing is that now I recognize that fact, whereas I think I've been oblivious to it. I also am coming to understand that there is an important distinction between youthfulness and foolish immaturity. It's taken me a long time to understand that. It's about time!
"Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should."
How many times has a spiritual director told me, "Be gentle with yourself" or "Nicole, you're too harsh on yourself." Indeed! It's hard to change a way of thinking if it's how you were raised or how you've always understood life to be. Another grace of my retreat in May was coming to a clearer understanding of what it means to be gentle with oneself... without being careless. Aristotle once wrote that virtue is the mean... or some people have translated it as "virtue lies in the middle between extremes." An insight into myself this summer has been that I am a woman of extremes... all or nothing type of mentality... in most things. Not a healthy way to be! It's funny how I came to understand this. One morning on retreat I was out for a walk. All of a sudden I had an urge to run (those that know me know that I don't run). So... I ran... for a little while. It was almost a sprint. Then... I couldn't go anymore so I started jogging more slowly, but I didn't like that. So, I started walking. And I thought to myself, "Either I sprint or I walk, there is no in between. That's why I never run." Then in dawned on me - I'm like that in everything! Funny how God brings things to light in unexpected ways. I should repeat to myself every so often, "Virtue lies in the middle..."
The end of the "Desiderata" goes like this...
"Therefore, be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy."
Many blessings to all who read this!