By Theodore Splinter, ofm
We were in prayer (the Divine Office a.k.a. liturgy of the hours) last week, and the Friar who was leading the opening hymn was starting on the wrong note and messing up the first verse. He was trying, but I was a little annoyed. I was thinking that he should be asking someone else to lead the hymn instead. Then, it was my turn to lead a psalm, which I am normally good at. I receive comments that I have a good ear and chose nice psalm tunes. But when I went to start, I came in on the wrong note. And, I messed up the first verse. It happened two days in a row. I was rattled. I was thinking, “I didn’t have any trouble with this before, why now?”. And then it hit me………. Well played, God. Well played.
That is an example of my day to day life in Noviciate. I don’t do big and exciting things. I am not acquiring specific skills and knowledge for the future. I am not getting meaningful work done. I am not going to bed exhausted and satisfied.
I was corresponding with a good friend who has difficulties in life. I told him that his situation is similar to mine. Neither of us can do very much, in a practical sense. He is not working, has limited mobility, difficulties with anxiety and depression, and not much family or social interaction. I, although having every capability, am also not active in any outward way right now because of the form of the noviciate life. It is difficult for both of us to accept such uselessness. I want to love. He wants to love. I am accustomed to being busy and productive. I used to think I was a hero for how hard I worked at everything, particularly my business. Now I can accept not being outwardly productive, in a physical sense, but I want to have more interaction and excitement. I want to make a difference and feel important. I want to help, and serve, and comfort, and make people smile. I did that during postulancy, and my heart came alive. My friend also wants love but is alone and hopeless.
I know a man who is elderly and quite infirm. His life consists of trips to the kitchen for tea, the dining room to look at the news paper, his bedroom for just enough time to justify heading back downstairs for tea again and repeat. What is the point? Well, what was the difference between his life and my busy, productive, superstar (if I don’t say so myself) life in business? I felt like I was a hero, sure. The old man probably feels like he wants to do more, but can’t, so he is restless. But what is the real difference? I had satisfaction, but that may not have been better than his situation. I was fueled by pride. He seems driven by emptiness. Maybe emptiness is better for the soul? My life is now empty of everything a normal person cares about. All I have now is praying the Divine Office, going to mass, doing some clean-up in the garden, and sitting through classes of varying interestingness. (I looked it up, that IS a word). But when I was robbed of everything, I could draw satisfaction from, I had to look inward. My will was suffocated, and my ego shattered. I was left in silence. And, in that silence I found that God can be much closer to me, and I to Him, than I ever thought possible before. I had previously been too busy living what I thought was life.
In my correspondence to my friend in difficulty, I told him that the only thing either of us can do right now is be loved. We have no ability to do anything exciting, and we do not really have opportunities to love anyone else. So, what can we do? Be loved. Accept God’s love. The two of us are like babies in cradles. All we can do is accept God’s love and allow our hearts to grow.
I accepted recently that my only job right now is to accept God’s love, and the result has been amazing. I have received more love from others. I have gotten along better with the other Friars. I have felt Christ’s companionship stilling my mind and soothing my heart. It has been wonderful!
How can one accept God’s love? It is not as easy as it sounds. Neither is “be happy”, or “don’t worry”, even though people so often give that as supposedly practical advice.
All I can do is analyze what has correlated with me opening up and receiving God’s love now, as opposed to the past.
- Right now I am unable to exercise my will. I have to follow someone else’s plan all day, every day. I have to surrender.
- We worship God regularly, through daily Mass, and the five prayer times of the Divine Office.
- I am surrounded by good company who are all striving to embody Christian values.
- I am detached from the news, events, and pursuits of the world (I have not followed the news for 11 years. I chose to trust God and be tranquil rather than let faces on TV piss me off)
- I observe a moderately regular, disciplined, and clean lifestyle. I recognize the effect my body has on my mind and act accordingly.
- I pray A LOT. I have been doing a centering prayer every day for 11 years. It is the most important part of my life. My only advice for anyone who wants to try it is to keep going. Don’t stop.
Others can achieve step one through marriage and parenthood. They can do #2 to at least some extent, but loving service to others counts too. #3 can be appear hard to find, but if a person is open and honest about their deepest griefs, they will be surprised by how many people relate. #4 is easy for anyone who can trust God and live without the satisfaction of feeling better than people on TV. #5 would benefit everyone, in every way. #6 is the key. Whatever form of prayer you do, it must be sincere, and done with focus and dedication. Don’t stop. Keep going. Everything gets better. Every problem dissolves. Your heart is transformed by grace. And, love wells up from inside.
Glory to God
Killarney, Ireland, March 1st, 2019