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One thing I love about the shape of my days is that I get several new beginnings sandwiched in between dawn and dark. My habit of napping – begun of necessity during the years of (constant??) pregnancy – has stayed with me as a mini-Sabbath that is a priceless gift. From it, I emerge newly begun every afternoon. The Divine Office is a dip into a pool of deep refreshment three times a day: Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Night Prayer.
It may seem strange to think of Night as a new beginning, but it’s a wonderfully quiet, still, relaxed phase for one whose mind can let go of today and tomorrow by way of the night office. Sleep (young moms may have forgotten what a full night’s sleep is, but even a partial sleep is heavenly!) is a vital time of brain-reorganization and integration that takes advantage of your incapacity to act, in order that you may be acted upon. Great ideas and creative solutions to problems are often born during a restful night, and God sometimes touches the sleeping soul with healing, or guidance. Sleep is not a waste of time!
Beyond all these new beginnings, a day full of ‘life’s challenges’ can be a sort of obstacle course in which I discover that God’s mercies are not just ‘new every morning,’ but in every moment. It can be nice to start the day and experience it as one whole, smooth thing from morning to night. But if your days are much rougher, with lots of challenges and obstacles, do focus on all the fresh starts such a day provides!
Somehow, the ‘whole me’ will be included in that name, and it won’t be complete until my life is complete. My current name is like a symbol of this fully-known and fully-uttered ‘me,’ who has being within Him. At the moment during Mass when we pray, “only say the word, and my soul shall be healed,” I sense Him speaking this one word: my name. I ‘hear,’ “Charlotte,” but my heart hears that whole name, spoken from outside time into the moment of two small syllables. Each time, I hear my Self spoken back into being, healed, renewed, called forth to be me. What could better prepare me to receive Him than this Love, whose voice continuously upholds my being?? I love this moment! Sometimes, when I need that love to renew the face of my being, I just ask, “Lord, will you just say my name, please,” and He does.
A pet peeve of mine is the one who, on being asked a question, simply says, “I don’t know,” instead of “I’ll go find out right now.” Another is the one who answers a phone call while I’m speaking to her in person, as though I just don’t exist as soon as that bell rings. Another, the one who doesn’t see an item on the shelf, and must be coached and coaxed to check the backroom shelves and the back-order list for clues about how to provide a needed item to a customer. Another…well, you get the idea.
But, I’m also – and often – blessed by the kindness and helpfulness shown to customers. A video was posted online recently of a fast food server helping an elderly customer cut up his food. I watched from a long line at the post office as an employee offered to help pack a shaky grandma’s gifts to her grandkids for mailing. Nobody was impatient in that line, but all seemed blessed by this tender and respectful gesture.
I realized then that not only are the world’s bottom-level, or front-line employees giving much of the human contact many people receive, but also they are doing a great work of modelling calm, courteous, respectful, unprejudiced, kind, attentive serving for all who observe scenes like this. I think, for instance, of the distressingly tattooed and pierced teen who witnessed the postal clerk’s helpfulness and seemed genuinely touched by her example. I pray that machines will not replace them, and that many people will continue to go to Actual Locations in the Real World for the things and services they need.
I try to thank these servers wherever I encounter them, and let them in on the secret that their work is vital to our society. If I’m in line as someone treats them with disrespect, I pray for them, and say a word of encouragement when it’s my turn. If you do such work, may God bless you! If you don’t, I hope you’ll begin to see the cashiers, waiters, sales clerks, flight attendants, drivers and others who serve us all in this beautiful light.
On my living room wall you’ll see the painting, A Drawing In, by Peggy Shopen. It’s a pastel look across a tree-shaded lawn to a house that is tucked behind two large tree trunks in the middle distance. Though the artist is a good friend, and I’ve admired her work, I had not had such a sense of personal encounter with a piece until seeing this. I felt a spontaneous, non-analytical sort of ‘bonding’ with the painting.
How much of my response had to do with the fact that this particular house is one I’ve known intimately as a place of warm, human, Catholic fellowship and ‘culture building’? This home and the artist are ‘devoted to the service of fellow men,’ but does the painting reveal that to the viewer who does not know them? These questions intrigue me, though I don’t think I can answer them definitively.
The painting would, I think, bring viewers to a higher understanding of beauty, because it clearly portrays its subject – a simple, unassuming house – as a thing that is beautiful, that is seen with a deep appreciation of its interior, or hidden goodness, and as worthy of the work of an artist. Certainly, the painting points to the universal value of the home as a safe haven, and also to the value of the natural setting in which the house sits cradled and which forms an antechamber that seems to be bigger than the wood-enclosed rooms of the actual structure. This is so much entwined, for me, with my personal awareness that the artist really does perceive this tree-embraced ‘front room’ as an extension of her home, but I believe any viewer would sense this.
Because the natural beauty around the house so predominates, you could say the artist has placed the work of God-as-artist deliberately in a position of precedence over even her most-cherished personal sphere.
I love the way the sense of ‘interior’ and ‘exterior’ keep changing in this painting. The interior is the house, protecting an ‘inside’ from the elements, but it is also the deep-and-beckoning, almost spherical negative, open space framed by tree trunks that suggests the artists’ soul and calls to mine. The exterior is the outdoor world, but then is also the mere structural combination of old wood and fading paint that suggests the mortality, or temporary nature of such passing things as houses, possessions, and bodies.
This artist is a painter and iconographer, not a ‘word person,’ yet her painting’s title is another delight for me – an extra, poetic gift to me in a brief, three-word verbal enigma. “A Drawing In” plays on all the elements I’ve discussed in the painting – the ‘drawing in’ of friends and family to the shelter and joys of home life, and the artists’ literal drawing of ‘in’ – as the interior of her soul glimpsed inside a humble structure by those with eyes to see.
So, I offer these observations with joy, because writing this has helped me to see both my dear painting and my dear friend more richly.
A college student put out the word: doing research on Catholic feminists, looking for women to interview.
I felt I should talk to her, in case she hadn’t heard that Catholics could be very ‘pro-women’. I stopped by a dictionary to make sure I could accurately describe my (orthodox, Catholic, mom, grandmom, pro-life) self as ‘feminist,’ and found it easy to agree to the terms: seeks equal rights for women and men to vote, study, work.
Since her only other respondents had conveyed their sense that the Catholic Church was suppressing (at least) or oppressing women, I was glad to be a counter-point.
She was amazed that I find the constraints of the Church freeing and conducive to my full realization as a woman and as a person. Apparently, she’d not heard about artists who see constraints as the very pre-requisite of beautiful new form – invitation to creativity and powerful forward movement. We talked for two hours about how much I love being a Catholic woman!
I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but just wanted you all who are living in this glorious freedom to be glad with me that at least one young ‘feminist’ woman has had an eye-opening experience.
On this topic, I’ve enjoyed Genevieve Kineke’s The Authentic Catholic Woman and Pat Gohn’s Blessed, Beautiful and Bodacious.