Dull weather

Is it “one of those days”?  Here is a little encouragement from Amy Carmichael:

Ps. 76.4 LXX Thou dost wonderfully shine forth from the everlasting mountains.

Sometimes it is dull weather in our soul.  Here is a word for such days.  Often when it is misty on the plains it is bright on the mountains.  ‘Thou art more glorious and excellent than the mountains’ is a lovely word, I think, but this beautiful LXX rendering, which our Lord must often have read, carries us even further.  The mist may lie low on the plains, but there is a shining forth from the mountains.

There is nothing in me.  I may be as dull as the plains are when the mist is heavy upon them, but what does that matter?  ‘Thy mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens; and Thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds.  Thy righteousness is like the great mountains’ [Ps 36.5-6], and from those everlasting mountains ‘Thou dost wonderfully shine forth’.

In dull weather learn to look up to the mountains.  Refuse to look down to the plains.

May you have the grace today to look up to the mountains.

Great victories won by ordinary people

A word of encouragement from Philip Yancey for those of you who wonder what difference your everyday life is making for the Kingdom of God:

I once watched a public television series based on interviews with survivors from World War II.  The soldiers recalled how they spent a particular day.  One sat in a foxhole all day; once or twice, a German tank drove by, and he shot at it.  Others played cards and frittered away the time.  A few got involved in furious firefights.  Mostly, the day passed like any other day for an infantryman on the front. Later, they learned they had just participated in one of the largest, most decisive engagements of the war, the Battle of the Bulge.  It did not feel decisive to any of them at the time, because none had the big picture of what was happening elsewhere.

Great victories are won when ordinary people execute their assigned tasks. . .I sometimes wish the Gospel writers had included details about Jesus’ life before he turned to ministry. For most of his adult life he worked as a village carpenter.  Did he ever question the value of the time he was spending on such repetitious tasks?

One of those days

I’m continuing to read and be inspired by the lives of protestant missionaries.  My current favorite is a book by Isobel Kuhn, a missionary to the Lisu people in China in the 1940’s.  The book is entitled In the Arena and basically recounts the challenges she faced in her daily life as a married woman and mother living in, in all reality, the outskirts of the world, high in the mountains.  Here is her account of  “one of those days.”  A little background: she was about to start a Bible School for some of the natives, her husband was out of town, the missionary, Charles, who came to help her came down with rheumatic fever, and it was the rainy season.

It was a Sunday, Eva [her helper] had gone to church.  I was going to go to bed early but had a feeling that I should go down to Charles’ cabin first and see if he needed any help.  He did.  The rheumatic fever was getting under way now, and he was in such pain that he needed a shot of morphine.  So back up the slippery path I went to sterilize the hypodermic needle.  Behold, the charcoal fire in the kitchen was almost out.  With much blowing and coaxing I got a few coals hot enough to boil it the ten minutes required.  Then down the mountainside I went again with the pot and needle.  But I had never given an injection before this as John [her husband] had always done it for me.  Charles was suffering yet I hated to experiment on him.  I felt I must confess my inexperience to him.

“Oh, it’s easy,” said Charles, picking up the needle and fitting it on the syringe.  “You just want to make sure there is no bubble,” and to show me how, he held the syringe up, pressed the plunger and shot my carefully sterilized needle through the open window into the wet mud of the dark mountainside!  I had no other needle so had to take a lantern and search for that one.  Then I trudged up the mountain to our kitchen only to find that the fire was out!  I forget what happened after that.  Probably church was dismissed and Eva came to my rescue, for lighting charcoal fires was never where I shone!  My first lesson in giving an injection!

She and Charles would joke later: “Oh, it’s easy.  All you do is–shoot it out the window!”

Isobel goes on to say:

Small harassments; they come to everyone.  What are we to do with them or in them?  Seek a promise from the Lord.  Nothing is too small but that He will respond to comfort or to guide . . . .

“When did I licht ma auld lantern?” asked a Scottish deacon.  “Was it no when I was comin’ frae the lict o’ ma ain hoose along the dark road tae the licht o’ yours?  That is where tae use the promises–in the dark places between the lichts.”  Stumbling down the mountainside in the rain with a tray for a sick fellow worker–from ma hoose tae your hoose–that is where to use your light.

A walk along the river

Yesterday I was talking a walk around Gallup Park along the Huron River.  When I turned one corner, I was struck by the brightness of the sun being reflected off a portion of the river.  I started thinking about how that brightness was the result of the sun being reflected of many individual drops of water.  We are like those drops of water.  Many days we can wonder whether our life counts for anything.  We’re just living our ordinary daily lives, trying to love God and love His people.  Who even knows about us?  Yet, we are part of a people, the people of God. And when His light shines on us, we do reflect it.

In order for light to reflect off of something, the object must be pure, and that requires purification –the purification that happens right there in the ordinariness of our lives. This reminds me of a story told by Amy Carmichael.

One day in India, she took her children to see a goldsmith refine gold in the ancient manner of the East.  He was sitting at his little charcoal fire.  Amid the glow of the flames he place a common curved roof tile.  Another tile was used to cover it as a lid, and this became his simple, homemade crucible.  Into the crucible the refiner placed ingredients: salt, tamarind fruit, and burned brick dust.  Embedded within these ingredients was a gold nugget.  The fire worked on the gold nugget, ‘eating it,’ as the refiner put it.  From time to time, he would lift the told out with the tongs, let it cool, then rub it between his fingers.  Then he would return it to the crucible and blow the fire hotter than it was before.  ‘It could not bear it so hot at first, but it can bear it now,’ he explained to the children. ‘What would have destroyed it then helps it now.’  Finally Amy asked, ‘How do you know when the gold is purified?’ The refiner answered, ‘When I can see my face in it, then I know it is pure.'(Robert J. Morgan, The Promise: God Works Everything Together for Your Good, pp. 91-92)

The context of our lives

I just finished re-reading The Context of Holiness, Psychological and Spiritual Reflections on the Life of St. Thérèse of Lisieux by Marc Foley, OCD.  His main point is that God works within the context of each our lives, within the physical, psychological, social and emotional dimensions of our lives.   Here is an excerpt from the last chapter:

Each of us fights a “war within,” the cost of which no one knows but God alone.  Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart (1 Sam 16.7).  Judged by the standards of this world, our lives look like a “world without event,” but known to God alone “the heroic breast.”  All of us can say with Thérèse “Ah! what a surprise we shall have at the end of the world when we read the story of souls!  There will be those who will be surprised when they see the way through which my soul was guided” (S. 149)!

Our real life is that which is known to God alone and not that which is judged by the standards of this world.  In act IV of King Lear, there appears upon the stage a character who is so insignificant that Shakespeare doesn’t even give him a name; he is simply referred to as the First Servant.  As he witnessed Gloucester being blinded, the First Servant draws his sword to defend his master but is mortally stabbed in the back by Goneral.  His whole part consists of only eight lines, none of which are quote worthy.

No one remembers the First Servant.  But if King Lear were not a play but real life, then his part would have been the best to have played.  For it is not important that we are lauded or remembered by this passing world, for all that the world affords is fleeting. . . .

The only glory that survives the grave is a life well lived.  In a hundred years it will not have made any difference how much money we have in the bank, how many cars we have in the garage, how much power we wielded in our jobs, how many books we have written or how esteemed we were by colleagues and friends.  The only thing that ultimately matters is whether or not we have done the will of God.

In this book, I have tried to show through the life of one woman that the trials and tragedies of life, the fears and conflicts of the human heart are not obstacles to growth in holiness but the stage upon which the drama of holiness unfolds.  The same is true for us.  The gray mundaneness of daily life, our wounded psyches with all their fears and neurotic conflicts, our families, friends, and peers who never live up to our expectations and who often disappoint us, the impersonal and insecure world that we live in, is the context in which we choose to do God’s will.  (pp. 140-41, emphasis added)

“Those Endless Dishes”

As we move back into Ordinary Time, I thought you might be inspired by this article by Catherine Doherty about doing the mundane things of life:

THOSE ENDLESS DISHES

by Catherine Doherty

Recently my prayer has been spearheaded by a remark of one of our members who said that she wished that she had something “to sink her teeth into.” Upon discussion I found that this was a general feeling in a small group that was chatting together. They felt that Madonna House life, or part of it, had become unchallenging and monotonous.

They spoke of the office and its constant routine: writing endless letters, changing addresses, answering the telephone, doing the bookkeeping, and so forth.

Then they spoke of the sameness of the kitchen: preparing endless meals and getting them to the table, and washing dishes that seem to pile up like an enormous fortress to which there is no entrance.

Then there are the literally tons of clothing to sort. (They didn’t mention the laundry or the work of the men at the farm or other constant repetitive “chores” that need to be done over and over by other members of Madonna House.)

Yes, we are forever surrounded by tasks that appear to be dull, monotonous, routine, unchallenging. I listened to all of this chitchat and to the tremendous desires which seemed to animate the people who were talking.

They were not just idly talking; neither were they at all upset. They were simply “presenting their ideas.” But as they continued to talk, their voices suddenly did not reach me any more. Somehow I was lost in Palestine. I saw a hammer, a chisel, a hand-plane. Somehow I was utterly astounded—as if I had never thought of it before—by a carpenter’s shop.

The challenge it presented was beyond my ability to absorb.

The Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity—someone who could have been a rabbi, a king, an emperor, a philosopher, a man of tremendous renown, someone at whose feet the whole world would come to sit and listen—this awesome Person was right there, bent over a work bench in that shop, chiseling and planing pieces of wood.

He was doing little “unimportant” tasks: building a table for someone, making a cradle for someone else, crafting a chair for another.

I saw his calloused hands (for he did have calloused hands!) and I asked myself: Why did he choose such humble, uninspiring, unchallenging tasks?

Once you knew how to do them, they could never be called things “to sink your teeth into.” On some side street in an unimportant village, he did the work of an ordinary carpenter, just as his foster father did.

And what did his mother do? She washed and scrubbed and took the laundry to the river, and she milled the kernels of wheat manually between two stones. She wove cloth; it is said that she wove the cloak that the Romans threw dice for because it was so beautiful.

I began to hear again the evening discussion about the mounds of dishes, the eternal sorting of donations, the answering of phones, the filing of cards, the dulling rhythm of seemingly unimportant tasks.

It all became filled with a strange glow and I understood the fantastic, incredible, holy words contained in that sentence: the duty of the moment is the duty of God.

I also understood that anything done for him is glamorous, exciting, wondrous if only we can see it for what it truly is!

But we are human. And it takes a long time, my dearly beloved ones, to see reality through God’s eyes. Unless we pray exceedingly hard, it takes a long time to “make straight the ways of the Lord” in our souls.

When we experience this pain in our lives, this pain of making straight the paths of the Lord, it would be a good idea to remind ourselves that this pain is everywhere in every vocation, in every kind of work. It is part of the human condition.

The answer to that pain, in Madonna House or anywhere else, is prayer. Nothing else will do it; nothing else.

But—with prayer—we see an entirely different world around us. Sorting clothes becomes a joy. Washing dishes becomes an exciting challenge. The careful repetitious tasks of creating beauty (as in embroidery, weaving, painting, or carpentry) take on a new meaning.

Yes, I came back from wherever I was, watching Jesus doing carpentry work, and I thanked God that he became a manual laborer to show us the way to the Father. There is much more that I could say, but this will suffice for today.

Adapted from a letter to the staff, Oct. 1976, in Dearly Beloved, Vol. 3, available from MH Publications.